TAMPA — An early-morning fire on Saturday destroyed one of the vestiges of the Sulphur Springs community's mid 20th century heyday as a riverside mecca for area residents and northern tourists.
The blaze, reported at 3:31 a.m., swiftly consumed much of the old Tourist Club, renamed the Historic Harbor Club when the building served as a restaurant before shutting down for good about a decade ago. In recent years the structure stood vacant.
When Tampa Fire Rescue crews arrived firefighters saw heavy smoke coming from the wooden building at 915 Grant Ave. A short time later flames shot from a window just beneath the peak of the building's rounded roof.
Firefighters entered the structure and doused flames in the main room. They evacuated after encountering more fire at the rear of the building — flames which quickly spread throughout the interior, Tampa Fire Rescue reported.
Authorities summoned additional help due to the intensity of the blaze; a total of eight engines, two ladder trucks and additional support responded to the fire, Fire Rescue officials said.
No injuries were reported.
Investigators remained at the building later Saturday morning, trying to determine what caused the fire. Then city workers moved in to demolish what remained of the heavily damaged structure, which they deemed a safety hazard, Fire Rescue officials said.
Linda Hope, a longtime Sulphur Springs resident and area historian, stood by as heavy machinery knocked down the skeletal supports that held up the building's roof. “I think it's going to take a little while to absorb it,” she said. “It's like a good friend, and then they're gone.”
The Tourist Club stood on the northern bank of the Hillsborough River, just east the Nebraska Avenue bridge. It was a Sulphur Springs fixture in the early and mid 20th century when the community was a major draw for northern visitors to Central Florida.
The club hosted dances, family reunions and community meetings, among other activities, Hope said.
Other community landmarks were the Arcade, the Springs Theater, the Tower, the Sulphur Springs swimming pool, the original river bridge and the gazebo. The main attraction, though, was the bubbling spring that drew people “from all parts of the United States to bathe in the healing waters,” according to the website of the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center.
The private Tourist Club was founded in 1937 by Michigan and Ohio tourists. The building was the group's headquarters until 1984, when the club's membership declined to the point it no longer could maintain the clubhouse. That's when it re-opened as a restaurant before eventually closing.