The Daily Pulse:

McClung Warehouse Fire

It's too early to suggest we need to start referring to all of West Jackson Avenue's McClung Warehouses in the past tense. At this writing, one six-story building still stands, with fire-department water hoses streaming into it. The fire, of unknown origin, broke out sometime early this morning.

It's well under control now, but the fire was obviously a major setback for an ambitious city initiative, years in the making, to gain control of the buildings after a would-be developer's 1990s dreams for the buildings soured, and he was unable or unwilling to finish them or sell them. The city gained formal control over them just over two months ago, after a public investment of $1.45 million, with the intent of stabilizing them and turning them around for private development.

Even before the fire, their future was uncertain. According to experienced developers who had considered it, ny kind of rehab for the long-neglected buildings would have been extraordinarily expensive, and local preservationist developers hadn't jumped at the opportunity--though a national arts organization had expressed interest.

Early reports were a little confusing. The eye-catchingly restored and occupied Southeastern Glass building at the corner of West Jackson and Broadway was not affected by the fire and is fine. A one-story extension to the west of the fire appears to be intact.

The building most thoroughly lost today was probably the better looking of the remaining buildings, a four-story brick building with arched entrance. According to my sources, it was built in 1927.

Its facade included a limestone chunk embossed with the name of the Crane Co., which calls for a footnote when it's included among the "McClung Warehouses." It was sort of a McClung stepchild. The Crane Co. dealt in mill and plumbing equipment, and they were headquartered there for about 40 years. It wasn't until the late '60s that the C.M. McClung wholesale hardware company expanded into that building, after Crane left. It was actively a "McClung warehouse" for a little more than a decade.

Later, it was used by the local Philco dealer. It was the building that bore a very colorful and unusual mural that some observant artists had noticed was bleeding through the later but apparently thinner Philco advertisement. The mural depicted a sort of liberally interpreted mythological scene, of a heroic figure hurling lighting bolts, with evocations of wind and sun,

Last June, with the help of some librarians at the Calvin McClung Historical Collection--it's named for the same C.M. McClung, who was both a regional hardware tycoon and a history scholar--we determined that the mural had been painted over a period of weeks in 1981, heralding the theme of Energy for the upcoming 1982 World's Fair, which took place about a block and a half away. The artists were both UT scholars, Jeffrey Ryerson and Leon Weisener. Some mural connoisseurs admired the painting, and there was talk of trying to restore it.

It's all gone now.

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