Grand Rapids Polish Hall Destroyed By Fire

Posted at 5:52 PM, Dec 14, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A well-known Polish hall on the west side of Grand Rapids went up in flames Friday afternoon.

Fire crews said the blaze spread quickly and there wasn’t much they could do to save it because of the intensity of the fire.

Friday evening, fire teams were calling in members of an excavation crew to knock down the walls of the building so they could get at the hot spots that were still smoldering inside.

“It’s an old, old building,” says Gary Wilkinson, a long-time member of the Lexicon Club. “A lot of history.”

Members of the Lexicon Club like Wilkinson gathered to watch what was unfolding at the landmark in West Grand Rapids they called home. Some wiped away tears.

“I’m kind of sad about it. I’m going to miss it you know,” says  Julie Vandermolen, a board member. “It’s a place where we all get together as friends and camaraderie and everything going on in there and it’s going to be missed,”

When patrons like Wilkinson left the bar after last call Thursday and the treasurer locked up, they say everything was well.

“I was in there until 11:00 last night and I got a call at about noon from our treasurer. He said, ‘it’s on fire’,” says Wilkinson.

Around noon Friday, their beloved hall, home of so many Pulaski Day celebrations was up in flames. “Wall to wall people every year. Packed to the hilt,” said Wilkinson, remembering the Pulaski Day activities.

Firefighters were surprised at how big the blaze was when they arrived and how quickly it was spreading.

“It was huge,” says Daniel Caillouet, GRFD Battalion Fire Chief. “What’s got  us all curious of course is the amount of fire and the rapid spread of fire throughout the building particularly during this time of day.””

“Where did it start? Yeah.  How did it start?  I mean, we don’t smoke in there anymore,” said Wilkinson.

Members of the hall gathered late into the evening to comfort one another and watch what fire crews were doing. They are also considering, what’s next.. “I don’t think we aren’t going to have a building left that’s for sure,” says Vandermolen. “But, we can always rebuild and start over.”

Fire investigators continued to work the scene Friday evening to determine a cause. There was a reported smell of gas in the area earlier in the day, but investigators say they still don’t know whether or not that is connected.

The club is a total loss ant the fire did spread to another home where it caused an attic fire which fire crews also worked to put out. The battalion chief says a wall also collapsed on a neighbor’s detached garage.