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Building fire sparks historic memories for Jacksonville natives

Vacant building shares property with what was once Thunderbird Motor Hotel

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Flames ate away at a vacant building Wednesday in one of Jacksonville’s historic areas off Arlington Expressway.

No one was hurt in the blaze. which sparked memories for some, including Katherine Thomas, who was at the scene.

"Ann Sothern. Bob Hope. Jack Benny. I'd seen so many of them. I really experienced a lot there," Thomas said.

GALLERY: Abandoned building engulfed in flames

The small building that caught fire, which appeared to be used for storage, sent a surprising amount of flames shooting into the air.

Thomas and her daughter rushed over for a closer look when the flames lit up the night sky around 6:30 p.m., reminiscing about the larger building on the same property that was once the Thunderbird Motor Hotel and Thunderbird Dinner Theater back in the 1960s.

That larger building was most recently the Bethelite Conference Center, owned by Bethel Baptist Church, and before that, it was a Ramada Inn.

Thomas' daughter, Marilyn Reese, remembers when her mother worked at the Thunderbird Motor Hotel as the executive housekeeper.

Thunderbird Motor Hotel postcard

"Good memories," Reese said. "I hated to see it close down, but you had all these big fancy hotels."

She and others, including City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan are thankful no one was hurt in the fire. News4Jax asked Morgan about her push to help revitalize this area of her district.

"There was a buyer, but after the fire, I don't know what he's going to do," Morgan said.

Morgan said what might seem like a setback has not dampened the hope of seeing the area rekindle the fire of its heyday.

"Arlington Expressway sits at the gateway of both coming into downtown and leaving downtown," Morgan said. "It's an area we're really working on very hard."

Morgan said there are several other entities interested in the property.


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