FORT MADISON – Another piece of Fort Madison architectural history was lost along with two businesses during an early Saturday morning fire at Sixth Street and Avenue G.
There were no injuries in the blaze that nearly took out half a city block.
The building was the old Metropolitan Hotel and has housed many other ventures over the years, including Crickets, a once-popular youth center.
Currently,the Book Nook and Cure Solutions, a computer store, occupied the building. It also had been the home of a WGEM Fort Madison office.
Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren said the call came in at about 4 a.m. Saturday with a report of a downtown building on fire and flames showing.
He said he got to the scene about 15 minutes later and the center of the building already was beginning to collapse.
“So it had been burning for awhile,” he said. “It must not have been noticed.”
Herren called for an aerial truck from Keokuk. The Fort Madison and Keokuk truck attacked the fire from the top while the rest of about 35 firefighters attacked it from the bottom.
West Point and Montrose fire departments also were called to help.
Herren said he would guess it was about 6 a.m. when they had the fire completely under control and they knew they weren’t going to lose the Dollhouse Dreams building next door at 163 Ave. G.
Firefighters were determined to defend that building from catching on fire because unlike the Metropolitan Hotel building, the Dollhouse Dreams building had four occupied apartments above it.
All the occupants evacuated their apartments safely. Herren said there was some water damage because the heat from the fire broke the windows of the apartments. The fire department used foam to keep the flames at bay from the Dollhouse Dreams building and fans to try and limit the smoke damage.
The building was constructed in 1878 and was in a program that was to rebuild the facade. It also was one of the buildings that Cedar Rapids developer Frantz-Hobart was planning on constructing some apartments in the upper level. The building is owned by James Mitchell of Fort Madison. Herren said he believes it only had liability insurance on it.
Herren said because of that, the State Fire Marshal’s Office probably won’t be investigating a cause. He said he knows the point of origin was in the front, center of the building, but it was too damaged and dangerous to look at Saturday. He said a cause may never be determined because of that.
He also could not put a monetary value on the loss. The assessed valuation of the property, according to the Beacon system used by the Lee County assessor, is $103,000 for 2012. That is only the value of the building – it did not include contents.
Fort Madison police officer Todd Shields was on the scene as flames were still coming out of the building.
He said the fire department was using a misting foam and embers still on fire were coming out of the top of the building and falling to the street.
“It was like it was raining fire,” he said.
The Metropolitan Hotel was regarded as a gem property more than a century ago. It opened in 1860. In 1861 it was referred to in an article in the “Plain Dealer” as the “largest & most elegantly furnished hotel in the city.”
In addition to serving as a hotel, it housed a variety of businesses over the years, and several members of the business community called it home.
According to information provided by Historical Society President Andy Andrews, an article published on March 24, 1886, included a headline that referred to hotel as “An Establishment Our City Should Feel Proud to Possess” and the hotel was remodeled
It was then called the “New Metropolitan” because a new portion had been added to the building. The local architectural firm, Messrs. Marr and Gaylord, designed the 115-by-126-foot building. Theodore Nabers Jr. was its proprietor.
In more years, the building has houses Cross Beauty Shop (1935-37), LaCharme Beauty Salon (1937-1946), Burch Studio Photography (1946-1955), Gerry’s School of Dance (1956) and H & R Tax Service (1978-1980s).
Records show the building remained vacant from 1989 to 2005 when Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, Jason Huppert, set up shop there. In 2007, the property was purchased by James Ray Mitchell.