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1/1/2013 12:01:00 AM
Top Stories of 2012 - #1: Downtown Prescott burns in Whiskey Row fire; community rallies to help businesses
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily CourierFirefighters from around the area battle the blaze on Whiskey Row in Prescott May 8, 2012.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Firefighters from around the area battle the blaze on Whiskey Row in Prescott May 8, 2012.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Thousands of people gather on Montezuma Street for the Whiskey Row Fire Fundraiser May 20. All proceeds benefited the Bird Cage Saloon, Pearl’s Place Cafe and The Prescott Food Store.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Thousands of people gather on Montezuma Street for the Whiskey Row Fire Fundraiser May 20. All proceeds benefited the Bird Cage Saloon, Pearl’s Place Cafe and The Prescott Food Store.
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A fire on Prescott's famed Whiskey Row started shortly after 6 p.m. on May 8, 2012 destroying the Bird Cage Saloon, the Prescott Food Store, and Larry & Hy's Bare Bones BBQ Restaurant. A crowd of over 200 people descended on the Yavapai Courthouse plaza to watch the fire engulf part of the historic street. Nine engine companies from Prescott Fire, Central Yavapai, and Chino Valley fire districts worked together to extinguish the fire.
The Daily Courier

When Matt Anderson, co-owner of the Firehouse Grill, saw smoke in the early evening of May 8, he told Mayor Marlin Kuykendall - in the restaurant at the time - to call 911. Then Anderson grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran up the street.

"I saw smoke coming out of the back of Pearl's Place," Anderson said. "So I ran up front, and another guy with a fire extinguisher put out a small fire on the wall at the Bird Cage, and I ran inside to make sure no one was still in there. We saw no more fire at the Bird Cage, but Pearl's was engulfed in smoke."

At 6:13 p.m., 911 dispatchers received the first of many calls about the Whiskey Row Fire that destroyed Pearl's Place, Prescott Food Store, and the Bird Cage Saloon and within four minutes the first engine arrived, said Wade Ward, Prescott Fire firefighter and public information officer.

After determining no one was in the buildings, firefighters went inside but did not gain on the fire, then realized the roof was on fire and coming down, said Prescott Fire Capt. Jeff Knotek.

"The decision was made to keep the fire from spreading, so ladder trucks to the north of Moctezuma's, south of the apartments above Jenny Longhorn's, and in the alley behind the building sprayed water from above to surround and drown the fire," Knotek said.

At 6:25 p.m., all available fire personnel from Prescott and neighboring agencies were called in, Ward said.

"We didn't know if there might be areas crumbling inside (the firewalls), or if there were possibly holes in the wall where fire could spread, but the firewalls held," Knotek said.

At 8:14 p.m., Prescott, Central Yavapai and Chino Valley firefighters had knocked down the fire, but they remained overnight to make sure it did not reignite.

Prescott and Central Yavapai Fire District investigators worked through the night to determine the fire's cause and origin and then received help the next morning from the Maricopa County Fire Investigation Task Force, They concluded their investigation at 2 p.m.

"Investigators report that the fire started in the kitchen area of the barbecue restaurant where an appliance malfunctioned," said Prescott Fire Division Chief Eric Kriwer.

"We never received final notification (from the insurance company) of the exact cause regarding how the appliance failed during the Whiskey Row Fire," Kriwer said in December. "The area of origin was in the kitchen area where a meat smoker appliance was in use. The fire was carried through the attic area by the hood system."

Investigators believe the fire spread rapidly into the attic space before moving into two adjacent businesses, Kriwer said.

The morning after the fire, Mike Paper, owner of Pearl's Place BBQ, looked inside his business, saw fallen rafters, no roof, and everything inside charred and said, "We're not sure what we're going to do."

Highland Hotel residents were displaced and Jenny Longhorn's, Moctezuma's, and Prescott Museum and Trading Company suffered smoke and water damage.

Rebuilding after the fire

It was not long after the fire that the Whiskey Row community came together to help the neighbors who had lost property.

The fire occurred on a Tuesday, and by Wednesday morning, Whiskey Row businessmen Dave Michelson and Matt Brassard had come up with a plan for a fundraiser.

Billed as "Prescott's Biggest Block Party," the May 20 event brought together dozens of contributors of music, food, beverages, and auction items. Ultimately, the event raised $86,000, which was split evenly among the three lost businesses.

Although everyone involved was hopeful initially that the façade of the burned building could be saved, owners Howard and Nancy Hinson reported in late July that extensive structural damage would not allow for the salvage of the front of the building.

Workers razed the wreckage to make way for the construction of a new building, and in late July, the Prescott Preservation Commission approved a new architectural design.

While the new structure will borrow some elements from the 1903 building next door, it will not have an identical look. Local architect Bill Otwell, who is doing the design, described the desired look as "subtly new, rather than obviously new."

Prescott Preservation Specialist Cat Moody said the proposed building design achieves the city's goal for "infill" buildings: Being neither exact replicas of historic buildings nor too modern.

Along with the more contemporary look, the newly constructed building will offer some new features, including a street-level walkway that will connect the front of Whiskey Row to the alley behind it.

The project also will link the new building with the building next door, which once housed the historic Grand Hotel (later the Grand Highland Hotel guestrooms), and the Jenny Longhorn and Bead-It stores. (Smoke damage caused the evacuation of the building).

The upper story of the historic building, which previously was split into 16 guestrooms with shared bathrooms, is being reworked into a "boutique hotel" that will consist of about a dozen rooms with private bathrooms.

An upper-level patio (on the infill building) will serve both the hotel and the restaurant space that is planned as a part of the new construction.

Since the fire, extensive restoration work has occurred in the Jenny Longhorn space, and on November 23 - six months after the fire - the store reopened its doors, in time for the holiday shopping season.

This past week, Howard Hinson reported that work continues on the boutique hotel in the upper level.

"We have just finished the drywall stage," Hinson said. "We believe we can make a March 1 opening (for the hotel)."

Regarding the replacement of the building next door, Hinson and Otwell say the detailed interior plans have yet to be completed.

"As far as the architecture goes, we know what the shell is going to look like," Otwell said. "We need to fit out the interior."

The inside details will depend largely on the businesses that locate at the site, they say.

"We're trying to find prospective tenants," Hinson said, adding, "The design is still at a stage where it can be modified. We can involve (the tenants) in the design."

Neither Otwell nor Hinson had an estimate for the completion date of the in-fill building, although Hinson said he hopes that construction would begin by spring.

Once the tenants are on board, Otwell said, "We would prepare the construction documents and get the contractors involved."

He estimates that the construction phase would take at least seven or eight months to complete.

While two of the businesses in the burned building - Pearl's Place Café, and the Prescott Food Store - have not yet announced plans to return to Whiskey Row, the third business, the Bird Cage Saloon, is currently working toward relocation to a new site just down the street.

Bird Cage rises from ashes

The owners of the Bird Cage Saloon hope to reopen its doors by the time the one-year anniversary of the devastating fire rolls around on May 8.

The saloon will reopen in another, much larger historic Whiskey Row structure a few doors to the south where the Quiznos restaurant once operated.

"We want everybody to be comfortable and have great music again," owner Debi Stamm said.

The new place is nearly twice as wide as the old, so people won't be bumping into each other nearly as often, Brian Maize, general manager, said.

Debi, her husband, John, and their employees have been busy clearing out the building and trying to bring it up to the latest building and fire codes.

This month they hope to get the outside of the building painted a new shade of chocolate brown, and then they can erect their landmark Bird Cage sign on the front.

Debi is looking for red velvet flock wallpaper similar to the wallpaper in the old Cage.

The front sign, the historic wooden bar and a wooden display case all survived the fire, but not much else.

The Bird Cage was the only one of the three destroyed businesses that contained a host of irreplaceable items - treasures and memorabilia that John, his father, William, and his great-great-uncle, William Walden, had collected over their lifetimes.

Walden was a taxidermist, John Stamm said, and his entire collection of about 50 of Walden's stuffed birds was housed in the saloon, including extinct animals such as the passenger pigeon. Family legend has it that some of Walden's works are housed in the Smithsonian.

Alongside the taxidermy mounts and about 60 collectible liquor decanters were photos of friends long gone, old three-dimensional bar signs, and artwork of partying cowboys and sultry women that had gathered on the walls and shelves over the 43 years that Stamm and his late father have operated the business.

"It's pretty devastating," Stamm said. "These are things that aren't replaceable... a lot of memories were lost."

The Stamms did recover about 20 of the stuffed birds that might be able to be restored, Maize said, alongside a few other stuffed animals.

Others have donated birds, and the Stamms are hoping someone might donate a few deer and elk mounts to replace those that were lost.

"I'm just anxious to get everybody back to work," Debi Stamm said, noting that many of the Cage's old employees will return.

Related Stories:
• Editorial: 2013: Stay tuned for more changes
• Top Stories of 2012: #2 - Gladiator Fire scorches Crown King, briefly threatens Prescott
• Top Stories of 2012: #3 - Prescott marks Ariz. centennial with tree-planting, time capsule opening
• Top Stories of 2012: #4 - Yavapai Ranch's future could be pastoral, residential or industrial
• Top Stories of 2012: #5 - Racetrack could get a second chance

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Article comment by: Citizen Joe

Talk about beating a dead horse. How many times will there be an update about this in 2013? Mayberry politics....

Posted: Tuesday, January 01, 2013
Article comment by: really ?

Wow, another fool running at the mouth. What does your comment have to do with this story? Get a life.

Posted: Tuesday, January 01, 2013
Article comment by: just the way it is

Wondering why none of the stories of the gun enthusiast having to jump in to save the day made the top ten list.
Out of state visitors and unlucky peace officers having the opportunity in heaven to debate whether or not an AR-15 is or isn't a true assault weapon, geez, that one must not have been covered locally.

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