I drove home from Relix Theater about 1:00 AM Saturday morning. My path took me over the Broadway viaduct directly past the McClung Warehouses. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, but when I walked into our home Urban Woman said she smelled smoke. I told her Relix is non-smoking, but she said it didn’t smell like cigarettes. I didn’t think any more about it and fell asleep.
Unknown to me, about 4:00 AM a neighbor, Karen Kluge smelled smoke, walked outside and took the two photographs you see here of the actual fire. The photographs are taken from Locust Street looking north between the (former) Kimberly Clark Building and Summit Towers. The visible flames rose above the large hill to the north of Summit Hill Drive.
I heard the news when I awakened around 7:30 and took the majority of the photographs you see here. Fire engines were stationed atop that hill over looking the building, all along Jackson Avenue in front of the building and behind the building across the railroad tracks.
A passerby pointed out the car you can just make out in front of the building. Questions were later asked about the car. Was it involved, somehow? Did someone simply pick the worst parking space in the city the previous night? It was an odd place to park a car.
A hub of activity filled the parking lot of the former BP, and it included a KPD fire bus, which I’d never seen or considered before. Inside, the evacuated residents of the Southeastern Glass building enjoyed the heat, food and drink provided by the fire department. It made sense to have something like that, as I thought about it. You can see the edge of the Southeastern Glass building in a couple of the photographs here. It is uncomfortably close.
Given the nature of the fire and the heights at which some firemen worked, the dangers were clear. Fortunately, no one was injured in this fire, unlike the large fire which in 2007 reduced the three warehouses to, essentially, two. Firemen did not attempt to enter the building because of its known instability even prior to the fire. It’s unknown if anyone was inside the building when the fire began.
And that’s a line of questioning pursued at the 11:00 AM news conference convened at the fire station. An obvious assumption in situations like this is that homeless people must have started the fire inside the building in an effort to keep warm. City officials were asked about the securing of the buildings which they purchased in November. Bill Lyons pointed out that razor wire was placed around the perimeter of the building and solid metal doors were installed in doorways.
So how could this happen? There’s no reason the building would ignite itself. There was no electricity connected to the building. Conspiracy theories immediately populated Facebook and a reporter pointed this out to the city officials who acknowledged that owners are the first suspect in a fire determined to be arson, which brought a laugh to those assembled. It was pointed out that Mayor Rogero, visiting Turkey at that time, had a perfect alibi.
Still, there are questions that linger. If the building was secured that well, how could anyone gain entrance? Was it intentionally set from the outside and, if so, who would do such a thing? There are also depressing questions like what if the warehouses had been sold ten years ago? Would we have three intact warehouses to redevelop?
What if control could have been wrested away from the previous owner soon after the first fire, could the building have been redeveloped by now? We’ll never know the answers to the latter questions, but I hope we find the answers to the question of responsibility. Maybe it will be found that people were inside trying to keep warm.
The questioning in the press conference turned to the future and Bill Lyons indicated the previous plans will go forward. Those plans included feasibility studies to see if the buildings could be saved and a public comment process for the community to express their opinions and desires for redevelopment and then, hopefully, the city would transfer the property to a developer who would make good use of it.
From my perspective, the likelihood that the building could be saved was pretty low before the fire and clearly whatever chance it had has been reduced. Prior to the first fire there were three very large buildings. Then we had two and, it appears to be me we now have one, at most.
I waked back to the site on Sunday and took some final pictures. Urban Girl went with me and said the smell hurt her nose, so we didn’t linger. Firemen were still keeping watch, but the intensity on the scene had been diminished. I missed the Philco Sign and the barely visible painting beneath it.
So, what will become of the site? No one knows, of course. I expect the building to be demolished and I fear the property will remain vacant. We haven’t been very aggressive about building new structures. If we do have something eventually built there, I wish the city would demand something special. It is too visible a spot to everyone driving through to have a bland, architecturally uninspiring structure built there.