Hollins St. inferno sets back ailing area Boyd-Booth leaders mourn destruction of neighborhood anchor

November 11, 1995|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Ten hours after the fire started at the Hollins Street Exchange yesterday, the smoke lingered up a trash-strewn block of Hollins Street over Adell Redden's gardens of collard greens and sweet potatoes.

The former president of Boyd-Booth Concerned Citizens Inc. had been up all night at her house, two blocks from the 11-alarm fire, where she listened to sirens and watched the flames and smoke.

By morning, two homeless men knocked on her door for breakfast.

They had been living in the vacant building where the fire started, then spread across the street and destroyed the seven-story, brick Hollins Street Exchange, where artists, furniture makers and musicians worked and lived.

Over a breakfast of bacon, eggs and leftover vegetable soup, the men told Ms. Redden how they jumped from a second story of the burning building to a tree for safety.

"I hate to say this, but if they don't get the vacant buildings fixed up, the homeless are going to go into them and set some more fires," said a tired Ms. Redden.

She said she didn't know whether the two men were responsible for the fire. Officials have blamed the fire on homeless men living in the same building.

The fire, in the 2300 block of Hollins St., is between Ms. Redden's Boyd-Booth community and another neighborhood, Shipley Hill.

Yesterday morning, she stood among the firetrucks and hoses with Barbara McFail, her successor as head of the community association, and looked down the hill at the charred ruins.

The two women said the fire was a setback in their part of the city, where residents have worked for more than a year to push drug dealers from the street corners.

Ward Smith, director of economic development for Communities Organized to Improve Life, said the neighborhood lost an anchor in a community sorely in need of stability.

"It's a setback in the sense it was one of the most stable structures in the neighborhood," he said.

Mr. Smith said the fire came at a time when several community groups have just completed a land-use development plan for the future of the neighborhood.

And they had hoped to capitalize on the recent rehabilitation of the Hollins Street Exchange to spark other development.

"We had hopes the redevelopment of that property would spread and stabilize the western edge of the neighborhood," he said.

"I think it's a setback, a real loss. The only possibility for making lemonade from lemons would be that it may force the community and city government to come up with some new strategies for that whole industrial area, which we really have been at a loss before to do," Mr. Smith said.

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