Smoke pouring from St. Casimir’s Lithuanian Catholic Church across Church Street woke Mrs. Tishler at 2:45 in the morning on Feb. 6, 1909. She sent her son, Otto, to pull the alarm on Box 43 at the corner of Butler and Main streets.
Two Pittston fire wagons arrived in 10 minutes. Two lines were laid but the frozen hydrant at the corner of Carroll and Church streets produced a meager stream.
The wagons were sent back for more hose. By the time the firemen got two strong streams going, the church was forsaken for the homes around it. West Pittston responded and concentrated on keeping the back wall of the church from falling and burying the Smith and Raeder homes, which were only five feet away, while Pittston wet down the other homes around the church.
The flames were sucked up the church bell tower like up a flue. The bell fell down through the floor to the basement with a resounding clang. When the flames burst from the tower with an explosive pop, onlookers ran as the cross was engulfed. It was said that seen from the West Side the flames flared in the shape of the tower and cross then collapsed.
A month later, the cornerstone was pulled out of the ruble. Inside were foreign currency coins, a newspaper clipping of the laying of the cornerstone on June 28, 1889, and a description of the cornerstone laying in Latin.
The parish contracted with Louis Giele of New York City to design a new church and M. Stipp of Scranton to build it. The cornerstone was laid in May of 1909. The contract was for $40,000 for a 1,000-capacity brick, iron and stone church with Indiana Limestone trimmings. The price did not include heating, art glass windows, pews or altars. The church was dedicated on Easter Monday, March 28, 1910.
The church was built to last and did. Today it is 105 years old and in good condition. The Scranton Diocese closed the church on April 6, 2008 and consolidated it with the Parish Community of St. John the Evangelist.
Gina Malsky bought St. Casimir’s in 2011. Malsky had hoped to repurpose the church as a multi-use arts center. A local theater troop leased it for a time and tried to rehab it, but struggled to get the century-old building up to modern building codes.
Malsky still believes the building — with 7,600 square feet of interior space, 50-foot ceilings, a full basement and 30-space parking lot — is a perfect setting for a venue for weddings, parties, concerts and theater productions.
“Right now,” Malsky said, “I would love for the right person to buy it and turn it into a venue.”
Malsky is the proprietor of the Dance Theatre of Wilkes Barre and the Work of Art Learning Center in Exeter, but, she said, “I’m a businesswoman, but I found out I’m not a building owner, so it’s for sale.”
The last straw for Malsky was vandalism. A group of kids, ages 13-15, were caught be police in the building in mid-September, but not before they broke windows, hammered holes in new drywall, destroyed wall fixtures, set off fire extinguishers and blew apart a toilet. The vandals left lighters and aerosol cans behind.