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History in the ashes

Fire destroys landmark hall

August 4, 2012
By HANS MADSEN, , Messenger News

As a few small flames continued to flicker in the debris of what had been the historic Bohemian Hall at 2601 Johnson Ave. late Saturday morning, a steady stream of visitors arrived to look, take pictures, remember a wedding reception or a dance, or just see the destruction following the Friday night fire that burned it to the ground.

One of those visitors was the building's owner - Rick Woodard.

His plans for the structure went up with the flames.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Twisted steel roof beams hang in silent testimony to the heat and intensity of the Friday night fire that destroyed most of the historic Bohemian Hall, 2601 Johnson Ave.

"I was going to live here," he said. "Last year was the end of the dances."

He had been remodeling it to make it suitable as a living space and offices.

Woodard said he's owned the building since 2006. It was built in 1939 by the Bohemian Lodge. It replaced a wood structure on the same site that had been built in 1897. He said that was cut into three pieces and hauled to various sites to be used as houses. None survive today.

Woodard said that while the structure is insured, some of what was lost cannot be replaced.

"We had many pictures of old polka bands," he said. "That's one of the worst things."

In addition, there was sports memorabilia.

"It's hard to replace some of those things," he said.

The destruction of the building is almost total.

Only a small section of the basement appears to have been untouched by flames, a piece of paper still flutters on one wall.

Above, where the roof once was, steel beams hang warped and bent against the blue sky and the walls are leaning in.

There is nothing for Woodard to take away.

"I don't see any salvage to it," he said.

Callender Fire Department Chief Kevin Kruse said no cause has been determined yet for the fire.

"The fire marshal has been notified," he said. "They will investigate."

Firefighters were called back to the scene around 4 a.m. for a rekindle and were on the scene until about 10 a.m. Saturday.

He was grateful for the help from other departments.

"It was a collaborative effort with the mutual aid response," he said.

He said he was also proud of his firefighters.

"The guys did a great job," he said.

While he emphasized that the cause of the fire has not been determined, he is asking anyone with any information to call the Webster County Sheriff's Department at 573-1410.

At about 7 p.m. Saturday, the Callender Fire Department was called back to the scene when flames again erupted in the ruins.

While the ashes and debris cool, Webster County will be left without a piece of its history.

"I don't know what to think," Woodard said while looking over the building. "It's just a shame."



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