An early morning fire destroyed the historic Mosaic Templars building, under restoration as a museum, early Wednesday.
State officials said they hoped to save a small portion of the ground-floor proceed and continue with plans for a cultural center on black people in Arkansas.
The alarm came at 2 a.m., but the fire was too far advanced for firefighters to restrict the damage. The ruins were still smoldering during the morning rush hour. A fire official said it was too early to guess at a cause and the extent of the destruction may make pinpointing a cause difficult.
The three-story building was in flames when the brick facade collapsed onto 9th Street. Firefighters had set up their positions far enough away that none was injured by falling debris. Demolition crews knocked down more of the facade because of the threat of collapse.
The building, built in 1911 and dedicated in 1913 by Booker T. Washington, served a black fraternal society that sold insurance. Its third-floor ballroom hosted some of the most famous entertainers of the era during its heyday.
Some $2.5 million was provided by the state to make the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center a state museum. Its opening was scheduled for 2006. In all, it is expected to be a $9 million project, with hoped-for private contributions.
The future is now uncertain as to shape of the project, but state officials insist the project will move foward. Only a shattered hulk of the ground floor remains. State officials say the hope is to save from the pediment over the main door to the cornerstone of the building, at its northeast corner.
A spokesman said that there was no archival material inside. Construction work was underway.
“We are completely devastated by this,” Cathie Matthews, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, said in a news release. “The building was a great piece of Arkansas history.
“Our intent is to rebuild and continue our plans to open the museum,” said Matthews. “The next few weeks will clarify for us what we need to do. We have such a compelling story to tell about the Mosaic Templars and what that association and its leaders achieved during very trying times. We will let their determination inspire us as we move ahead.”
Insurance? The state has a $1.1 million policy, there’s a $2.9 million “builder’s risk” policy and the contractor has a $2 million liability policy. How much of that will be paid is yet to be determined.
KTHV has posted footage of the blaze.