02/20/05 — Historic theater destroyed; downtown Goldsboro loses Paramount in early morning fire

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Historic theater destroyed; downtown Goldsboro loses Paramount in early morning fire

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on February 20, 2005 2:11 AM

The Paramount Theater, a downtown Goldsboro landmark for more than a century, was destroyed Saturday in a predawn fire. Authorities said they could not determine a cause of the blaze.

"This is sickening," Mayor Al King said as he watched the fire.

Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield echoed what many onlookers must have thought: "It's a tragedy."

The Paramount, at 139 S. Center St., was built in 1882, according to Neil Bartlett, the director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department that operated the theater. The building's value was not immediately known.

"This was one of my projects -- to make this into a first-class facility," King said. "It had so much to offer. It had so many uses. The people really loved this building. ... I have the same feeling that I had when I went to the Community Building fire."

The Community Building was destroyed in a fire May 2, 2004.

The Paramount was used by local theater groups for plays, dance recitals, beauty pageants, town hall meetings, quarterly performances in the Wayne County Concert Association series and the North Carolina Symphony's annual Holiday Pops Christmas show.

Behind the Paramount, an addition that housed a warehouse for Stagestruck: The Young People's Own Theatre also was heavily damaged. Firefighters did save photo albums and other memorabilia.

Two State Bureau of Investigation special agents, an arson dog and three police fire investigators -- Maj. Jay Memmelaar, Sgt. David Kelly and Investigator Neil Lynch -- examined the ruins later but could not find a reason for the fire.

"There was nothing left inside but the four walls," Special Agent John Rea said. "We could not find any sources of heat."

Special Agent J.E. Umphlet's dog, Earl, also did not find anything that may have indicated arson. No samples were taken to the SBI crime lab for analysis.

No one was inside the building when the fire struck at about 4 a.m.

One firefighter, Lt. Rob Loreman, suffered minor injuries. He was treated at a clinic and released, officials said.

More than 60 firefighters on all three shifts from the city's five stations responded to the alarm called in by a passing police officer. New Hope, Rosewood and Elroy volunteer firefighters assisted at the scene. Mar Mac and Pinewood volunteers stood by at city fire stations to answer other calls.

"They did an outstanding job," said Assistant Fire Chief Gary Whaley, who supervised the operation.

Whaley said the firefighters tried to save the Paramount Theater, "but it had too big of a head start." Flames were shooting 30 feet in the air when the first trucks arrived from the headquarters station a block away.

At that point, what concerned Whaley the most was the threat of fire spreading to the businesses on either side of the Paramount and then, because of adjoining walls, moving from building to building up the entire block.

The city's two aerial trucks and New Hope's 100-foot tower truck prevented the fire from spreading. Neither Phoenix Construction Associates Inc. on the south side, nor the Orander and Riley law office on the north side was damaged by fire.

"We will rise from the ashes," said Monika Barkley, whose husband, S.C. Barkley II, operates Phoenix Construction.

Lawyer Greg Riley said he was worried about files in the back of his building. Whaley said later that firefighters got inside and covered computers and records.

At that time, Whaley said firefighters "were going as hard as they could," conducting three salvage operations to protect adjacent buildings.

When firefighters arrived, they saw the flames across the top front of the building. Whaley said the first ladder truck was set up on the Chestnut Street side and the second ladder was placed on Center Street in an effort to box in the fire. The assistant chief then called for additional people, notified Chief Greenfield and had Carolina Power cut off the electricity.

The fire, though, spread quickly to the roof line and moved back to the stage and draperies. The fire broke through the back side to the Stagestruck building. Whaley then called for New Hope's tower truck and put it in a back alley to confine the fire to the Paramount. A trench was cut to stop the fire from reaching a warehouse behind the theater. The fire was controlled after about seven hours.

Firefighters remained at the theater to prevent smoldering ruins from flaring up.

Fire officials thanked the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Billie's Backstreet restaurant for providing drinks, coffee, snacks and food during the day.