BY SCOTT BRODEN • SBRODEN@DNJ.COM • April 7, 2010
The back wall of a post-Civil War Reconstruction era building on the Public Square collapsed Monday night as if it had been hit by artillery fire, witnesses said.
The sound of the falling bricks at an empty building at 123 N. Maple St. startled three MTSU graduate students, including Cheri LaFlamme.
"We heard a single loud noise," said LaFlamme, who's working on a master's degree in public history and historic preservation and serves at the nearby Heritage Center of Murfreesboro & Rutherford County on West College Street. "It sounded like a garbage truck. We saw the hole in the wall and a dust cloud, so we called 911."
The Murfreesboro Fire Department responded to a damaged historical building in the downtown area around 9 p.m. for the second time in two weeks. The city's firefighters on March 20 also had to put out flames that destroyed an older building used by Music City Medical Supply at 219 W. Main St. The fire's cause remains under investigation.
No injuries were reported Monday night as firefighters examined the collapsed wall at the Maple Street building.
"That's the most important thing," Assistant Fire Chief Allen Swader said. "The only thing you can do is make sure people are protected and you have no injuries and be as cautious as possible."
The emergency responders cut off gas temporarily to neighboring Marina's on the Square and Wall StreetReagan bar and grill to make sure there were no leaks Tuesday morning.
"My understanding is we had some beams that rotted out and caused the wall to collapse," said Swader, public information officer for the fire department.
The hole in the back wall is about the size of a movie theater screen. Firefighters placed "Fireline Do Not Cross" tape around nine orange and white barrels at the rear of the building and closed three parking spaces. Tape and barrels also blocked the Public Square sidewalk on the other side. The debris pile behind the building included multiple bricks, the rotting beams, boards, a metal sheet and rods, drywall, plastic pipes and a lone medical crutch.
Building owner Sarah McKelley King said she plans to have the wall repaired so she can get a new tenant to replace Mid-Cumberland Community Services Agency. The agency moved about a year and a half ago to be by the new Juvenile Court on South Church Street.
"They had been there at least 10 years, maybe 12," said King, an 88-year-old Murfreesboro resident.
Before the wall collapsed, King was considering the option to rent the building to a church.
"I had not signed the lease that was sent to me," she said. "I was glad I hadn't signed it. I could have been liable."
King has owned the building since her cousin, Carmine Collier, gave it to her in 1949. She later bought the two neighboring buildings where the restaurants operate. The buildings were constructed in the late 1860s by former Murfreesboro Mayor Ingram Collier, the brother of King's great-great-grandmother.
"It was a cotton warehouse to begin with, as far as I know," King said. "This old building is kind of like my family. It's been there a long time. I want to rebuild it."
King is known for her historic preservation work, including being a leader with the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She led efforts in the past to restore Oaklands Historic House Museum and the Rutherford County Courthouse. Information about her is on display at the Heritage Center, which is part of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and is overseen by MTSU's Center for Historic Preservation. The display includes a photo of King shaking hands with President Ronald
Prior to the wall collapsing, King had asked her grandson Walter King III to look into ways to rebuild the structure. He was behind the building Tuesday morning assessing the damage.
"We have to fix it before we can rent it," said Walter King III, who lives in Chattanooga.
Sarah King wonders if the recent severe winter caused the damage.
Insurance will not cover the damages, she said.
"They think the brick was old and crumbly," Sarah King said. "I have spent a lot of money with them on all of my property."
In addition to the wall, the King family will have to deal with a heating and cooling system unit that was smashed by the falling wall, as well as a glass door firefighters broke through on the front side of the building.
Witness Kevin Robertson at first thought the collapsing wall noise meant Marina's was being robbed before he saw firefighters enter the building.
"They used an ax to get through the front door, and there's a big gaping hole in the back," Robertson quipped.
Murfreesboro Codes Department Director Gary Whitaker said the building appeared to be structurally sound enough to repair it.
Marina's owner Doug Duross said city firefighters and codes did a good job keeping the buildings safe.
His restaurant had just closed when the wall collapsed. The day before, he noticed the wall had a bulge in it.
"It was really bad," said Duross, who'd like to see the building restored soon. "These old buildings are phenomenal. They should be able to rebuild this building. We like the old feel."
BY SCOTT BRODEN • SBRODEN@DNJ.COM • April 7, 2010