Owner says Westside gymnastics gym destroyed in fire was ‘safe haven’ for students

No one hurt in massive gym fire on Lenox Avenue, JFRD says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A gymnastics gym on Lenox Avenue that was destroyed in a fire overnight has been a safe haven serving children in the Westside community for more than 35 years, the owner told News4JAX.

The fire ignited early Monday morning at Gymnastics Unlimited, and the fire marshal is investigating the cause.

There were no physical injuries, according to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

But the emotional scars were apparent Monday as owner Lisa Music shared her heartbreak over the loss.

“To all of the children, I’m sorry. This is a safe haven. It has been for so many children for over 35 years. My father helped build this and make this legacy happen, and I’m just so sorry,” Music said. “We know through tragedy that great things can come, and trust, children, that we will be fighting to continue to make your dreams come true.”

JFRD told News4JAX crews to not get too close to the building because there is a risk that the roof could collapse. JFRD crews were ordered out of the building when the roof began to buckle.

Community members, students and parents gathered Monday to pray over the gym, chanting “GU Strong!”

One by one, our crew watched as they cried and embraced each other in front of the charred building.

“Over here is where I took my first recreation class. When I saw gymnastics on TV, I wanted to be just like the girls on TV. That was the first place that I took a class,” said Ashanee Dickerson Jacobs, one of the many success stories from GU. “I just keep sitting down on the concrete just looking into the building. It can’t be true.”

Dickerson would spend six to seven days a week at the gym and got a scholarship to the University of Florida, helping the Gators win their first national championship in 2013.

“And I promised when I finished, I would always come back to help give back what she gave me,” Dickerson said.

She is Music -- whose purpose for the gym for 35 years has been to be a place where children can grow.

“And this gym has been a pillar of the community for so many years. And it has allowed these children to go on to be great, great individuals, from doctors to lawyers to brain surgeons,” Music said. “I mean gymnastics is just the catapult that allowed them to become the strong women that they deserve to be. And I’m honored that I have been able to do that. But right now, I’m just devastated.”

Music said the building was up to code, and she’s baffled as to what could have started the blaze.

She said the business began on San Juan Avenue in a smaller space and her father helped her expand to the larger space on Lenox Avenue. The only thing left standing inside the building is a bench her father made, Music said.

Music wanted a place where kids could just come and be kids, and the business has steadily grown in size and the number of children it serves.

One parent who remembers bringing her children to the gym drove up to the building Monday after hearing about the fire.

“It’s not good. I can’t even think why this would happen because if you knew Lisa, this would just make you sad,” Sharon Soileau said. “I’m trying not to cry but looking at this place, this is not how we remember it, but there are good memories in here.”

Soileau said the gym is like a family.

“This whole community, we love Gymnastic Unlimited and we love Lisa,” she said. “It’s a family. I had to come hug her neck and tell her I appreciate everything she’s done in the community.”

It doesn’t stop with this fire.

“I am very grateful for Mrs. Lisa. She’s been there for me and I’m going to be there for her,” Dickerson said.

Music said they are still trying to absorb what has happened, but they do plan to rebuild.

In the meantime, some of the gymnasts have competitions as early as this weekend and throughout the rest of the month.

A GoFundMe has been set up for the community to be able to help. Anything that you can contribute will make a difference as Music and her gymnasts start over with only their memories.

About the Authors:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.