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Fire Guts Historic Oak Street Building, Causes $800,000 Estimated Damage

The three-alarm fire destroyed a building next to the Margarita European Inn.

Fire crews from Evanston and surrounding communities battled a three-alarm fire late Tuesday night that gutted a historic building at Oak Avenue and Grove Street next to .

Nobody was injured in the blaze, and the fire department said the damage is estimated at $800,000.

The fire started around 11:00 p.m. on the second floor of the building, said Evanston Fire Department Division Chief Thomas Janetske. About 80 firefighters from as far away as Glencoe and Northfield responded to the fire.

Nobody was in the building at the time, as it was undergoing renovations. There were about 30 people staying next door at the historic Margarita European Inn, according to the hotel manager.

“We fell asleep at 11 and woke up thinking the noise outside was just construction,” said Bob Eisenstein, a visitor from Massachusetts who checked into the hotel Tuesday night. “Then there were people banging on our door, and there were firemen in the lobby.”

Meg Furlong, a visitor from Iowa City, said her family evacuated their room so quickly she left her wedding ring behind. Her husband and 11-year-old son left the room without pants.

“I literally could see the flames licking out the window,” Furlong said.

A plume of heavy smoke hovered in the area, prompting the fire department to check in on residents at a neighboring retirement community. Heavy ash from the fire coated cars parked along Oak Avenue, and firemen checked rooftops nearby for burning embers.

Janetske said that since the building was empty the main concern with the fire was preventing it from spreading to other buildings, and noted that some light smoke had gotten into the Margarita European Inn. At one point flames approached the side of the hotel, but firefighters quickly put them out.

The building, 1560 Oak Street, was the future home of a clock museum. In 2009 the Evanston Planning and Development Committee granted a special permit to the building owner to open a museum of time and glass at the site, but the museum had never opened prior to the fire.

The cause of the fire is not yet known and the fire department will begin an investigation Wednesday morning.

Lisa Cisneros March 16, 2011 at 07:30 AM
I hope she got her wedding ring back! :( How scary for those people! Glad everyone is okay!
Michael Pure March 16, 2011 at 11:36 AM
Lisa, What a kind thought. Our manager Kathryn had the hotel under control and the incredible Evanston Fireman did the rest. Such a loss of a beautiful structure and opportunity for the public to see the Mr. Halim's world class collection; my heart goes out to him. Michael Pure Innkeeper Margarita European Inn Pensiero Ristorante
Christine Wolf March 16, 2011 at 12:40 PM
Is this building the former Evanston Catholic Women's Club? I just drove past yesterday, marveling at how pretty the building was shaping up...so much beautiful work put into it. I'm sorry to see such a beautiful Evanston building gone.
Conall Walsh March 16, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Dang! That was an amazing house. I used to work at the restaurant in the basement of the hotel next door a long time ago, and we went in that house often to cater parties. It was gorgeous inside. Very sad...
Sari March 16, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Yes it was. Even our alderman, Donald Wilson didn't know that. And they had recently done so much work to the place....digging a garage under the structure, and stripping off all the old paint down to the bare wood. I wonder if a spark from a paint stripping gun might have set it off. I've heard of that happening many hours after the work had been done on an old wood Victorian house. There is so much damage I wonder if it can even be restored. Very sad indeed.
Jessica Rudis (Editor) March 16, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Sari, I was on the scene this morning and unfortunately it's looking like the building will have to be demolished. A lot of the building collapsed and it's in pretty rough shape.
Jessica Rudis (Editor) March 16, 2011 at 07:22 PM
An editor's notebook comment re: the people who ran outside without their pants -- while on the scene, a kind Evanston neighbor brought the family some extra pants so they could stay warm. :)
Jeff March 16, 2011 at 09:00 PM
The hand-detailing on the plaster work above the doorways and on the turret was just beautiful, too. It's very sad to hear that they'll likely have to demolish the building. I enjoyed walking past everyday and seeing the progress.
Max Silvers March 16, 2011 at 10:49 PM
the foundation and stonework in front could potentially be re-used, perhaps something could be built on top of that, given that there is no heat cracking or anything.....
Richard Schulte March 17, 2011 at 01:10 AM
The unsung hero at this fire was the Evanston Building Code and the Evanston Building Inspection Department from years ago when the hotel was built. The blank masonry wall of the hotel near the property line helped fire fighters prevent the fire from spreading to the hotel. Nobody notices what the building department (and the fire prevention bureau) does, so I thought I'd say something. It's time for the building department (and the fire prevention bureau) to get a little recognition. Schulte & Associates Building Code Consultants
Tim March 17, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Here's the video I took after I called 911. http://vimeo.com/21138630
Jessica Rudis (Editor) March 17, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Tim, Wow- thanks for sharing that video!
Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith March 17, 2011 at 03:35 PM
This beautiful 'Painted Lady Victorian was destroyed in a fire on March 15. As one of my fav. buildings with such historical charm that I have admired for decades, I biked over to see its remains the next day. After staring in disbelief, I was interviewed by Chicago Tribune Photographer, JOSE OSORIO, who was on the scene. My interview and photo (still shot) was seen on WGNTV.com that evening - on Wed. Night @ 9:49 PM. My quote dealt with how the community of Evanston is charming because of homes like this and what a loss it will be for the community. I am happy to hear that the building will be reconstructed, as a Clock & Glass Museum will be(come) its new residents. Posted by: ASK: Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith Screenwriter - Author - Eventologist Chicago - IL USA askoopersmith(at)hotmail(dot)com 3-17-2011 - 10:21 AM CST
Sari March 18, 2011 at 02:33 AM
And last night around 10:15 they razed the whole thing. At night. With giant spotlights on it. (they couldn't wait til morning?) What a (bad) trip for the people staying at the Margarita Inn.
Tim March 18, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Let alone the people that live next door. It was nice to have that clean up crew start pumping out water onto our garage deck this morning.
Jessica Rudis (Editor) March 18, 2011 at 06:26 PM
Sari, Here's an answer to why they didn't wait until morning to demolish it: http://patch.com/A-fS24 Basically, the fire chief said the structure was very unstable and leaving it would have been risky since it could have damaged surrounding buildings.

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