A jewel of Toledo’s resurgent UpTown neighborhood caught fire Tuesday, forcing residents of the 18-unit apartment building onto the street where they watched in disbelief as the 1897 structure burned.
Michael McCarthy, 35, answered his husband’s phone call and tried to explain the magnitude of the flames that devoured the roof of the old rental complex at 321 16th St., where he has lived for seven years.
“It’s all gone, OK?” he said. “It’s over.”
The Wachter Building, named for noted Toledo architect Harry Wachter who co-designed the nearby Toledo Museum of Art and died in 1941, was nearly fully occupied, Mr. McCarthy said.
IN PICTURES: Toledo Fire battles the apartment fire
All residents escaped safely, Toledo fire spokesman Pvt. Sterling Rahe said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Authorities think it could have started outside the building.
Firefighters wiped ash and sweat from their faces as they took turns battling the blaze amid gusty winds and temperatures that soared well above 90 degrees, breaking a 61-year-old record.
Thick, black smoke blew across nearby Madison Avenue. It blanketed the area and added to the suffocating conditions. A chief on scene allowed firefighters to remove some of their gear, if appropriate, because of the intense heat.
Crews arrived on the three-alarm scene a little after 4:30 p.m. They continued to climb ladders and douse water on the building hours later, with roughly 70 firefighters working to extinguish the flames. Streets in the area including Adams remained closed while the crews worked.
The Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Red Cross plans to provide food, shelter, and care to the 21 people displaced from 16 apartments, said Doug Fee, the chapter’s disaster manager.
Residents such as Mr. McCarthy have created a vibrant, close-knit community in UpTown. The area is known for its lively bar scene along Adams Street, entrepreneurial spirit, and colorful art murals.
He was at work, just a few blocks away, when he started getting phone calls that the apartment building was on fire.
“Adams Street is a tight neighborhood,” he said, as he continued to pick up his ringing phone to reassure callers he was safe.
Tiffany Berry, 35, said it was unusual for her to be home during the middle of the day. But there she was, asleep after visiting her mother at the hospital. She awoke to a loud “slam” and asked her boyfriend to look out the back door. She thought her cat had knocked something over.
He opened the door and told her he saw fire.
“I ran. I just closed that door, and I grabbed my dog,” she said.
Ms. Berry said her two cats hid amid the commotion and were still upstairs as she stood barefoot on the sidewalk.
The Wachter Building has long held an important place in the neighborhood. Mr. McCarthy said the 120-year-old structure was originally built as a dormitory for workers constructing the art museum.
The apartment complex featured long, narrow units with patios, beautiful stairs, and lots of wood, said those who’ve been inside.
“I love that building it’s one of my favorites,” said Julie Champa, executive director of the UpTown Association, a nonprofit community redevelopment corporation. “From an historic perspective, I mean take a look at it: It’s really cool. You don’t find that kind of architecture these days.”
Ms. Champa raced out of her nearby office and watched for hours as firefighters worked. Next to her Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, who spotted the smoke from her 22nd-story office at One Government Center — located nearly a mile away in downtown Toledo — also trained her eyes at the blazing building.
The mayor had planned to meet constituents at Ottawa Park for a walk — a new outreach effort to connect with citizens. But she bypassed those plans and headed to the scene.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson represented this district when she was a city councilman. She said residents, supporters, and businesses spent years “fighting and scrapping” to put UpTown on the map.
“People are living down here. They are working down here. They are recreating down here. This neighborhood is one of the… forward thinking neighborhoods,” she said.
Lucas County property records list the property’s owner as Toledo-based 321 16th Street LLC. Keith A. Hymore is listed as the firm’s registered agent with Ohio’s Secretary of State. He could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Champa said UpTown will continue its momentum, but the loss is emotional.
“It’s a blow to the neighborhood. It won’t keep us down, we’ll keep moving ahead,” she said.
Blade reporters Mark Zaborney, Mike Sigov, and David Patch contributed to this report.
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