Originally Published: July 29, 2012 12:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Almost three months after fire destroyed three businesses on Prescott's historic Whiskey Row, the boarded up storefronts still attract attention from passers-by on the street.
This past week, as building owners Howard and Nancy Hinson took a look at the destruction inside the Pearl's Place Café, a small group gathered outside to ask about the fire.
"It's so sad," one of the women said, looking at the mounds of charred debris and blackened beams hanging from the ceiling of the former Pearl's, while one of her young daughters lamented the loss of the Prescott Food Store, just down the street. "Why did it have to be the candy and ice cream store?" she asked.
The Hinsons know that the community feels affection for the 1903 structure and the three businesses - Pearl's Place, the Birdcage Saloon, and the Prescott Food Store - that burned in a May 8 fire. And early on, everyone hoped that the front façades could be salvaged.
But an inspection by a local structural engineer later determined that the fire damage was too great. That damage, coupled with other structural issues, led to the conclusion that the front wall must come down, the Hinsons said.
Indeed, the entire lot will be cleared soon to make way for a new building.
The Hinsons expect the demolition work to get started within the next week or so. First up will be the construction of a pedestrian walkway, which will provide a safe place for people walking along Whiskey Row while the demolition work takes place.
The Hinsons say the walkway construction should begin by Monday, and the entire demolition should take two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, work also is under way on the building next door, which housed the Jenny Longhorn and Bead-It stores in the lower level, and 16 guestrooms in the upper level.
While the fire and smoke damage caused the closure of the stores, as well as the displacement of the 17 people who were living in the Grand Highland Hotel guestrooms, Nancy Hinson said the lower level should be ready for occupation again by fall.
Work also is in progress on the restoration of the upstairs rooms, which once served as the Grand Hotel.
The Hinsons expect the Jenny Longhorn and the Grand Highland to resume business as soon as possible.
Although the details of the new construction at the burned-out site have yet to be finalized, the Hinsons say they are determined to rebuild. They have been working with local architect Bill Otwell, who is guiding the repair and restoration, and developing plans for the new construction.
On Friday, Otwell said the project was a "unique opportunity to build an infill project on Whiskey Row with a possible pedestrian connection through to the alley."
Noting that the building that burned had been reconstructed through the years, Otwell said, "The building itself is not historic; it's has been modified so many times."
So, while the new building will use similar materials and be similar in scale to other buildings on Whiskey Row, Otwell said it likely would not be a replica of what was there before.
"That's the fine line we walk when we do infill design in a historic neighborhood," said Otwell, who has decades of experience in historic preservation architectural work throughout the Southwest. "We want it to be new, but compatible."
The two Whiskey Row buildings have been in the Hinson family for years. Howard and Nancy Hinson, through their company Holiday Ventures, LLC, bought them in July 2009 from the Hinson Trust. Howard's parents had purchased the two-story building in 1950, and the burned building in 1971.
A benefit after the fire raised $86,000 for the owners of the three businesses, and the Hinsons expressed their gratitude this week for the help the community has provided in the wake of the fire.
"It was really nice how much the community helped," Nancy Hinson said. "We want to emphasize the thoughtfulness of the community."
Along with the benefit, they said, Lex Krieger at the Hotel St. Michael housed the residents of the Grand Highland Hotel for two nights, and many others in the community assisted them to find replacement housing on short notice.
Since the fire, Nancy Hinson said dealing with the aftermath has been virtually a full-time job.
"We've been doing this every day since the fire; it's been pretty non-stop," she said, referring to the coordination that was necessary among insurance companies, contractors, and businesses.
Now, with the restoration work getting started this past week, she said, "It's exciting to see something actually happening."
Although the Hinsons say any completion goal for the new building would be merely a guess, they both were hopeful that the project could be done within a year of the May 8 fire.
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