Fire guts historic White Hall

Grand Junction firefighters spray water on a fire at White Hall at Sixth Street and White Avenue early this morning.

A prospective buyer for White Hall made a formal offer for the historic building one day before it nearly burned to the ground, according to a Realtor representing the property’s owner.

First Choice Realtor Harry Hotimsky said the would-be buyer, whom he declined to identify, intended to turn the facility into a “community resource.” He did not elaborate but said the offer was received Wednesday.

“It’s ironic,” Hotimsky said Thursday of the timing of the fire. “It was like, ‘Why?’ “

The cause and a point of origin of the fire, which leveled most of 600 White Ave., may not be known for days because of the amount of debris and flooding in the basement, Grand Junction Fire Department spokesman Mike Page said.

The chapel section of White Hall, which once housed First Presbyterian Church and was dedicated in 1928, was gutted from roof to basement, although the fire did not reach the east wing of the building.

Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Colorado Bureau of Investigation responded at the request of Grand Junction authorities, who did not offer a damage estimate.

Fire Chief Ken Watkins said one fire unit initially was sent to investigate a report of smoke, called in by a passer-by, at around 2:41 a.m. at Sixth Street and White Avenue. Flames were found shooting from the northeast side of the building, possibly from the chapel area, Watkins said.

Firefighters entered from the front doors facing White Avenue and were met almost immediately with heavy fire and soft, spongy floors, withering from the fire’s heat, Page said. A firefighter fell through the first floor into the basement, where he was rescued by colleagues. Unhurt, he went back to work, Page said.

Watkins said the floor collapse was one of at least two that happened during the firefight.

Firefighters abandoned efforts to battle the blaze from inside, retreating to defensive positions with three fire engines, three ladder trucks and three ambulances. The Clifton Fire Department sent a ladder truck in response to a mutual-assistance request. Fifteen people in a nearby apartment complex north of White Hall were evacuated to the Mesa County Public Library.

Crews were mopping up by7:30 a.m. and spent the bulk of Thursday dousing occasional hot spots.

“It could take days for us to go through this,” Watkins said.

White Avenue and Sixth Street near the building will remain closed for several days partly because of concern about structural integrity on the south end of White Hall, Page said.

‘It’s a shame ...’

White Hall in recent years was used for office space, a live-performance theater and a dance studio, among other uses, but the building was most recently unoccupied and housed no businesses, Page and Hotimsky said.

Jesse Lueras, a project manager who works next door at Huddleton-Berry Engineering, 640 White Ave., said a woman who regularly walked a pair of dogs may have lived in the building for a period of time, but he said he hadn’t seen her in several months.

The Grand Junction Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team responded to the building for a brief period Thursday morning, but police spokeswoman Kate Porras said the officers were sent only on instruction from police command staff to offer help to firefighters.

State records list White Hall’s owner as Rosemarie Glas of Grand Junction, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Tiawana Bullock, director of local nonprofit organization Hope Enrichment Center in Riverside, said her group had been raising money for two years to buy the building and they had toured White Hall as recently as three months ago. The group had not made an offer on the building.

“We’re not giving up just yet,” Bullock said, standing outside the burning building Thursday, expressing hope it can be restored.

Many people showed up with cameras in hand Thursday, saying they were mourning the loss of a downtown icon. Several recalled attending weddings, while attorney Brad Hibberd, with offices at 605 Grand Ave., said he was fond of the stained-glass windows that faced Sixth Street.

“It’s a shame somebody didn’t do something with it,” he said.

Staff reporter Amy Hamilton contributed to this story.


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