Two fires in downtown district highlight safety concerns

Firefighters¬†say there’s no connection between fires in two downtown La Crosse buildings this weekend, it may be no coincidence, either.

District Fire Chief Jeff Murphy said the downtown business district, notorious for its historic buildings and old-time feel, can be a firefighter’s worst nightmare.

“You almost have to treat every call downtown as though there’s more fire than what you initially see,” he said.

The buildings are in close proximity to one another, and oftentimes share a common space.

“You could have half of the block sharing the same attic space,” Murphy said. “You can have a basement that encompasses three different buildings.”

Several of those buildings in the downtown district and across the city are historic landmarks, including the Hollywood Theater on Fifth Avenue. The building, which is currently being renovated by owner and attorney Phil Addis, suffered a fire Friday night when its marquis went up in flames as a result of fauly electrical wiring.

Addis is a La Crosse native who has spent more than two decades renovating the downtown area. His projects include the building he practices law out of on Main Street, where he also lives. The projects aren’t cheap ones, he says. The cost of renovations can escalate quickly when factoring in fire prevention mechanisms like alarms, smoke detectors and safe electrical re-wiring.


Those are prices that business owners working out of a historical building can’t always afford.

“It’s expensive,” Murphy said. “This is a tough economy right now, and for business owners to invest in that sort of thing, it’s difficult.”

But for Addis, preserving the historic feel of La Crosse is more than worth the cost of renovations, even when he factors in the cost of the Hollywood’s current fire damage.

“You have to decide what’s important to you,” Addis said. “If a sense of community is important to you, and a sense of age, where your city is in the world or on a map or in history, it’s important to keep some link with the past of how your city was created.”

Fayze’s Restaurant on Fourth Street also sustained minor damage from a basement fire early Sunday morning. An investigation into the cause of the fire is still underway.