Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Lake City News

The Blanche Hotel (Part I)
The visit • The fire inspection

Fire Chief Frank Armajo prepares fire report on the Blanche Hotel
Lake City Assistant Fire Chief Frank Armajo prepares the fire report on the Blanche Hotel. Chief Armajo told the Observer, "We are doing this by the book," which can be seen in front of him.
To view a photo gallery of the Blanche -- Go to Photo Gallery

On October 9, 2009, as the tide of conversation began rising around the Blanche Hotel in downtown Lake City, your reporter took his first look inside the Blanche. It was a sight that truly took ones breath away.

The grandness of the old building, on the historical register, was musty and dank reflecting years of neglect. The front desk was unoccupied, the paint was peeling and yellowed, the carpet should have been at the curb, the center rail of the grand staircase was removed and the bathroom by the restaurant was disgusting and dilapidated.

This once grand old lady surely had more than just one foot in the grave.

Main meeting room in Blanche Hotel
The carpet in the main meeting room is disgusting.
Go to Photo Gallery

A quick walk up the stairs to the second floor, a floor which has been described as in almost move in condition was no better than the first. The giant stains in the carpet, of what was described as the main meeting room, and in the hall leading to the offices of the occupied area of the Blanche were nauseating.

The peeling paint and black mold played second fiddle to the doors, which led to the third floor and would have been an escape route in the event of a fire. They were screwed shut in the unlighted stair well which led to them.

In the event of a fire, this faded grand old lady was a death trap.

The Observer wasted no time in visiting Lake City's top fireman, Chief Carlton Tunsil.

Two hours later, the Observer received a phone message from Assistant Chief Frank Armajo:  "Mr. Lilker, thank you for reporting the violations. The fire inspection is scheduled for Tuesday. If you have any questions, please give me a call."

On Thursday, October 16th, your reporter met with Assistant Chief Frank Armajo to discuss the findings of the fire inspection.

Chief Armajo again thanked the Observer for reporting his observations to the fire department and encouraged anyone who sees what they think are fire violations to report them to the fire department, explaining that the identity of anyone that reports a violation is kept anonymous.

Chief Armajo went over his findings.

Chief Armajo said, "We made them immediately unscrew the doors. That's life threatening. We put fire line tape across the stairwells. In a fire you can cross it."

Dead creature did not excape the Blanche Hotel
This poor creature did not escape the Blanche Hotel. The Lake City Fire Department and the Observer want to make sure this doesn't happen to you. Go to Photo Gallery

Chief Armajo explained that the city is making their pictures and the fire report available to anyone who wants it. "All one has to do is bring a new cd to the city and they will swap you for a copy with the information burned on it. There is no charge for this." As always, Lake City is the poster child for open government.

Assist. Chief Armajo inspected all areas of the Blanche, including the existing businesses. He told the Observer that the merchants were glad they were there and told him, "Now we'll get something done in this building."

Assist. Chief Armajo discussed the electrical needs of the building. "They changed the place from a transient motel to a place of business. When the occupancy changes that requires a fire inspection. You change the occupancy – it [the Blanche] is not engineered for offices."

Assist. Chief Armajo went over more of his findings. He said the air conditioners must have fire sprinklers underneath them because of their size -- they weren't there; hallways were blocked; the firewalls aren't to code; the stairwells are pulling away from the walls; the storage rooms are not to code; all the sprinkler heads have to be replaced; the sprinkler heads are upside down; many electrical violations; one of the doors going to an outside stairwell was locked; there will need to be an asbestos check; there is pigeon guano on the floor; some places that needed fire sprinklers don't have them.

It was pure turpentine.

Assist. Chief Armajo said he took some of the lath and smelled it. "It was pure turpentine. We took some outside and lit it – it went up like kindling. This is a lightered building... It took two days to do the inspection."

Because of the perceived interest of the county, Chief Armajo invited a representative of the County Fire Department to come along during his inspection. No one from the Columbia County Fire Department showed up.

The conversation continued and concluded with Chief Armajo again explaining that the fire report, the results of the Blanche Hotel fire inspection should be available soon and will be available to the public in its entirety.

Chief Armajo said, "We are doing this by the book."