Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fernandina Landmark Left Scorched by Fire

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fernandina Landmark Left Scorched by Fire

Article excerpt

FERNANDINA BEACH -- Memories of more than 90 years of stiff drinks and tall tales filled the city's historic district yesterday as investigators began determining what sparked a fire at the Palace Saloon.

The Palace, an Amelia Island landmark known for exquisite antique furnishings and alcoholic concoctions, has been the oldest continuously operated saloon in Florida.

Tourists and natives gathered at Centre and Second streets watching fire officials begin the tedious process of cleaning up after the early morning blaze.

Many onlookers recalled the smoldering watering hole's impact on the community and their own lives.

"I used to love to just come and look at the bar," said James Eisenhower, a retired telephone company employee who frequented the Palace in the 1950s. "Their chairs weren't too comfortable, but they had the best [alcoholic] punches. Two of those things and you were ready to go home."

Constructed in 1878 as a dry goods store, the building became the Palace Saloon in 1903. With its detailed tin ceiling, Italian tiled floor and two imported 20-foot bars, the Palace played host to notable American names like Rockefeller, Goodyear, Du Pont and Gould.

"It is our past, and the fact that it has burned is devastating to us," said Ron Kurtz, director of the Amelia Island Museum of History. "So much of our history is a living history. We look at the building as part of our future as well."

Some pieces of history are irreplaceable, including the saloon's murals featuring characters from Shakespeare's plays and Charles Dickens' novels. Jacksonville artist Walter LeRoy Kennard painted the murals for $300 in 1907. He died in 1983 at 97.

"The Kennard murals are probably devastated, and one would hope there is something we could do to have them restored," said Kurtz. "But the master's hand is there no more."

Bill Gooding said he's glad he collected postcard-sized replicas of the murals signed by the artist during a visit to the saloon years ago.

"It was a great experience to go inside [the Palace]," said Gooding, a Fernandina resident for 50 years, watching firefighters survey the bar's charred remains. …

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