Farm theft linked to theater fire Manager says shows will go on -- somewhere.


Standing before the blackened devastation of what used to be the Painters Mill Music Fair, manager Nick Massoni said every show booked into the 30-year-old theater will take place, somewhere, even if he has to go back to using a tent as the fair's founders did in 1960.

Yesterday's four-alarm fire wrecked the lobby, offices and hallways in front of the Owings Mills theater in the round.

The remains of the building were so unstable that the Baltimore County building engineer yesterday declared the structure "unsafe."

John Reisinger, the county engineer, said today the owners of the property "have the option to either raze or rehabilitate it. And if they decide to rebuild, that structure would be subject to our inspection before it were opened to the public."

Police said the fire apparently was the work of burglars who first stole acetylene and oxygen tanks, a torch and a 1978 Ford pickup truck from the Lippy Bros. farm near Hampstead in Carroll County.

Donald Lippy said all the equipment seemed to be in order when he left his farm offices at 11:30 p.m. Sunday. But he was awakened by a call from Baltimore County police four hours later notifying him that the truck had been found in the parking lot of Garrison Forest Apartments in Owings Mills.

The truck was found as flames were shooting from the roof of the steel theater building not far away.

County police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger said the burned torch and tanks found near the charred office safe at the theater were identified as the ones stolen from the Lippy farm on Lees Mill Road, two miles south of Hampstead. Police examined the truck for fingerprints.

Massoni said thieves broke into the building four times in November, stealing cash, liquor and vending-machine coins. As a result, he said, nothing of great value was kept in the building, or even in the safe, which yesterday's intruders torched but did not force open.

Reisinger said the building still "appears to be mostly structurally sound."

Only a third of the floor area is damaged, he said. The heat bent some structural steel supports. The actual theater auditorium is intact, though wet and smelly. Cinder block fire walls surrounding the performance area and a sprinkler system helped protect most of the building, Reisinger said.

A brick addition housing dressing rooms and storage areas on the north side was only slightly damaged, as was the metal grating the intruders cut with their torch to gain access.

The fire idled three full-time workers, plus nearly 200 part-time people who worked at performances as food vendors, ushers, members of backstage crews or building attendants, Massoni said.

The company, Painters Mill Inc., took over the operation in February 1990 and was doing well staging rock and country shows and, lately, boxing matches, said Massoni, 24, a vice president. Work was progressing to spruce up the theater and plans were under way to add a comedy club on the second floor, he said.

A performance scheduled for the theater last night and sponsored by a local radio station was moved to Hammerjacks bar and concert hall in South Baltimore. The scheduled performance of three hard-rock bands Monday night also will be elsewhere, Massoni said. As long as the entertainers keep their commitments, the shows will go on, he said.

The boxing matches were held every other month, he said. The next match is scheduled for April 18.

The building is owned by a Timonium-based company called Diversified Investment Associates Inc. Partners Richard H. Kress and Larry Berman were not available for comment today.

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