TAMPA — For a century, the rooming house on North Nebraska Avenue had withstood the blistering elements, unwanted squatters and construction of the nearby interstate. It took a fire, 600,000 gallons of water and a wrecking crew to bring it down Monday. The two-story colonial revivalist structure in the shadow of where Interstate 4 meets Interstate 275 met its fate under the steel arm of a demolition backhoe Monday afternoon. The demolition was ordered after an early morning fire made the 3,500 square-foot, wood-frame building unstable, said Sal Ruggiero, with the city’s code enforcement office. He said the amount of water dumped into the vacant, boarded-up building to extinguish the fire caused the 100-year-old walls to bulge outward.
Tampa Fire Marshal Milt Jenkins said the fire’s cause was undetermined, though investigators did find the blaze started on the outside of the structure on the southwest corner. The blaze might have been arson or accidental, he said, likely sparked by vagrants sleeping on the rear porch. “It may have been discarded smoking material,” he said. “We don’t know if is suspicious or not. The place has a history of people, vagrants, living in the back, sleeping on the porch.” He said the building was torn down Monday afternoon as a public safety measure. “It’s a historic structure,” he said, “and the only reason we made that decision (to demolish it) was because the fire was under the bottom of house and we couldn’t get to it. We threw water back there to keep the flames from coming back up, but the structure was too unstable for anyone to go inside.” The two-story rooming house at 2306 N. Nebraska Ave. was valued at just more than $40,000, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. City officials said the building was built in 1913, when Tampa’s cigar industry in nearby Ybor City was thriving and homes sprouted up all over to house the influx of immigrant cigar factory workers. The house was owned by Lucy Bosy, according to the property appraiser’s office. She could not be reached for comment Monday. This building, originally constructed as a duplex and later turned into a boarding house, likely was not intended for factory workers just after the turn of the last century, said Tom Snelling, director of the city’s planning department. “The reality is that Nebraska Avenue at one point was the premier corridor for people who had a little more means, a little more financial stability,” he said. “It was not a cigar factory worker’s house. To live there, you had to have had a little more means than the average cigar worker.” Though the house was vacant and had fallen in disrepair, tearing it down was a difficult decision, he said. “It represents the early development of Ybor City and everything that was going on there,” Snelling said. “When houses get abandoned like this, bad things happen. We work real hard to preserve our links to the past, especially a building that is 100 years old.” Tampa Fire Rescue firefighters got the call about the fire just before 1 a.m. Monday and found heavy smoke coming from the south side of the building. Firefighters attempted to get into the back of the house, but the fire was too hot and forced them to fight the fire from outside, firefighters said. A crew of 45 firefighters contained the blaze in about two hours, officials said. No injuries were reported. Heavy smoke on the nearby highways around 2 a.m. forced the Florida Highway Patrol to shut down traffic in both directions on Interstate 275 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the Interstate 4 interchanges. The roads reopened about an hour later. [email protected] (813) 259-7760