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Our Opinion: Burning history

January 26, 2001

After years without a major blaze, downtown El Centro has been torn asunder by two big fires within the last month and a half, blazes that broke out only feet from each other.

What, we must wonder, is going on? Is it merely coincidence, simply bad luck? Is it vandalism? Is it people going into the buildings at night seeking warmth and inadvertently setting the buildings ablaze? Is it something even more nefarious, someone with a unique, rapid and surefire approach to urban renewal?

We don't know all the answers, but we hope to know someday, the sooner the better. When you have two huge fires, one that destroyed The Salvation Army Thrift Store and damaged adjacent businesses and one that gutted the venerable Fox Theatre and ripped through neighboring offices, the community needs answers. We expect those answers from the professionals at the El Centro Fire Department soon.

Thursday morning, the morning after the fire at the Fox, construction workers were continuing efforts on the downtown plaza, which is a major part of the city's downtown revitalization program. Around the workers were the charred remains of the Fox and the adjoining businesses taken down Wednesday night. Just down the block was the devastation from The Salvation Army early in December.

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Revitalization is wonderful, but how vital will downtown El Centro be without the Fox and the adjoining businesses that made up a block of Seventh Street? How vital will it be without the thrift store and all the people it attracted? How vital will it be without the martial arts studio and Republican headquarters wiped out Wednesday?

The Fox, which closed last year, was an elegant piece of Imperial Valley history, a relic from the golden days of Hollywood that had seen better days but was salvageable. It could have again become an elegant venue for gatherings. The sad irony is a group of investors from our community interested in purchasing the theater had toured the facility Wednesday morning and made an offer on the old movie house. That night it burned.

With it went special memories for many in the Valley. With it went what could have been a centerpiece, a show place for a revitalized downtown.

The old Crest Theatre across the street was not damaged by the blaze, and it could become the focus of the community group. The Crest is bigger and needs more work than the Fox did, but maybe the fire will burn into people's minds the urgency of salvaging these wonderful old theaters before something horrible happens.

Something horrible has happened. Actually some things horrible have happened. Losing the Fox is like losing a piece of the Imperial Valley's soul. The downtown revitalization must go on, but minus the Fox it won't be the same.

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