Old Pearl Cleaners building destroyed by fire

Old Pearl Cleaners building destroyed by fire
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 5:21 AM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 7:14 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Fire crews spent more than 14 hours on scene of a two-alarm fire in downtown Evansville on Wednesday.

It’s at the old Pearl Cleaners building on Northwest Third Street.

Officials say someone driving by called in the fire before 2 a.m.

Our crew captured video of the fire causing sparks to fly from a nearby power line.

Officials say CenterPoint Energy came out to the area to shut off the power to more than 100 customers.

Power has been restored everywhere except at the scene of the fire.

Evansville Division Chief Mike Larson says crews took a defensive approach to the fire, meaning no firefighters went inside the building. Instead, they focused on containing the fire and limiting its spread.

“We have a fire station very close by. Our crews showed up within just a couple minutes,” Larson said.

Larson says the fire was contained after about an hour and a half. He says the fire was considered “out” around 8 a.m.

“They did a really good job honestly containing it to the building of origin. I know it looks really bad, but all in all, it is a win keeping it within that building,” Larson said.

After the fire was out, fire crews continued to put fire on hot spots until around 4 p.m., making sure the fire didn’t rekindle.

Larson says he wouldn’t be surprised if some spots of the building rekindle over the next few days.

That Pearl Dry Cleaners location had been in business for more than 100 years when it closed in 2017.

“It’s invaluable,” said Kelly Coures, Executive Director for Evansville’s Department of Metropolitan Development. “You can’t calculate the historic value. It’s just a big shock.”

The building sat along an arterial route of the downtown area. In the time before vehicles, it was a hay market outside its walls. The hay fed horses, the business fed prosperity.

“Been around forever, it’s been around forever,” one former employee told 14 News. “I couldn’t believe it, it’s a sad day. It’s a very sad day for Pearl.”

Records show the building was built in 1912, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Pearl Cleaners was in talks to be used, and maintain its historic value.

“I think there were, and continue to be, unlimited opportunities for this site,” said Josh Armstrong of Downtown Evansville. “This building was awaiting its next chance while we did a lot of work around it.”

Coures says in addition to the two historic warehouses in the city burned to the ground, these buildings across the country continue to fall daily.

“I think we probably see it happen more often than not unfortunately around the country,” Coures said.

Armstrong says the building was put up for sale not long ago by the owners, but was in talks to become residential.

Plans are not concrete just yet, but Armstrong says what becomes important is keeping buildings like this around, to serve as a consistent marker of Evansville’s history.

“We have to rally around financially viable ways to bring them into productive use,” Armstrong said.

They show a historical release of dry cleaning solvent to the subsurface was reported to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) in 2011.

Site investigation, remediation and monitoring activities were completed by December 2021, according to records.

The Pearl Development LLC released a statement:

“We are heartbroken and truly devastated at the loss of The Pearl Building in downtown Evansville. Almost exactly one year ago we bought this historical landmark with the hopes of returning it to usable commercial space. Our dream of revitalizing this iconic building and returning it to her former glory, is now ash.

We were on site this morning to witness the bravery and hard work of the Evansville Fire Department. They did an amazing job of containing the spread of the fire and ultimately extinguishing the blaze. We are grateful for their professionalism, fortitude, and tireless efforts to protect our city.

We await findings from the authorities as to the cause of the fire and we will work with our city leaders to develop plans for the future of the site.”

Economic leaders tell 14 News there were potential plans to renovate the building into apartments.

They call it a big loss to Evansville.

Executive Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, Kelley Coures, shared more on the history of the building.

An investigation is underway into what started the fire. The Indiana State Fire Marshal was on scene Wednesday, assisting crews.

Officials say Northwest Third Street into downtown will remain closed overnight and Thursday.

You can hear part of that interview, plus see some of our 14 News drone video of the fire aftermath here:

Pearl Dry cleaner history and 14 News drone video of the building

Here’s our team coverage from 14 News at 4 p.m.

Old Pearl Cleaners building destroyed by fire

Here’s a live report during Sunrise with EFD Division Fire Chief Mike Larson:

Live interview with EFD on fire at old Pearl Cleaners building

Here’s more coverage from Sunrise:

Crews battling early morning fire at old Pearl Cleaners building in Evansville