Former school destroyed in 3-alarm fire

Posted at 4:21 PM, Apr 07, 2016

In the past week-and-a-half, eight vacant buildings have collapsed in West Baltimore.  Now, another one is gone after a massive fire.

This time it's a building that played a big role in the life of Thurgood Marshall -- the country's first African-American Supreme Court justice.

The fire broke out around 12:30 Wednesday afternoon at the elementary school that Marshall attended nearly 100 years ago.

It used to be called P.S. 103, the Henry Highland Garnet School.

“It's one of the most significant public schools in Maryland's history,” local historian Philip Merrill said.

And that's why it was supposed to open as an attraction on the Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail -- in 2008.

That didn't happen.  There's also an advertisement on the building for a contract to stabilize the structure -- dated 2013.

Merrill says hoping to preserve historic buildings isn't nearly enough.

RELATED: Crews fight 3-alarm fire at a community center

“We're just running our mouths,” he said.  “Where is the money? Where is the focus to make sure that some of these buildings are properly restored and turned into tourist attractions or communities centers that could benefit everyone?”

Like many other buildings in West Baltimore, the school had fallen into disrepair.

And now the three-alarm fire caused massive damage to the roof and the interior.

Timothy Powell's mother attended the school. 

“Her heart's sad about it you know because she went to school there with her friends and everything. It just hurt her to hear that her childhood school had burnt down,” he said.

Michael Mann drove by the school after hearing what happened.  He attended the school as well, and says he's always been proud to have graduated from the same elementary school as a Supreme Court justice.

“Everybody was proud to go there.  It really touches you when you see where you went, and your history is there, and it's completely destroyed now,” Mann said.

Merrill says the fire made him sick to his stomach:  “If you really valued your heritage, you wouldn't allow it to take place in the country's most important district,” he said.

So he spent the afternoon trying to document what's left; taking photos and sifting through debris. 

“This was going to be similar to the King Center in Atlanta,” he said.  “It was going to look at civil rights in America, following in the footsteps of the first black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall."

It's not clear whether the building will be a total loss.  The fire department has not found a cause.

No one was injured.

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