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Half of building is being saved

Crews began taking apart the second floor of a fire-ravaged historic building in Ybor City Friday after engineers determined the first floor was the only part worth saving.

The building at Seventh Avenue and 22nd Street was built 90 years ago and once housed the Masonic Lodge. Le Chateau European Antique Imports made the two-story building home before Sunday's blaze.

Initially, engineers deemed the entire building too dangerous and damaged to be used again. But a group of elected officials and historic preservationists pushed for another opinion, and the facade and structure were restudied over the past three days.

Engineers determined the second floor wasn't safe enough to withstand rumbling from nearby trains and wind from trucks and nature. The fire rendered much of the building's support, including brick mortar, brittle, said Ron Weaver, an attorney for the building owner, Andre Callen.

"We realized the second floor was virtually impossible to save," he said. But Callen is optimistic the first floor will be preserved.

The first floor makes up the original building constructed in 1916, while the second floor was added on years later.

"I'm very pleased we're saving the original part of the building," City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said.

Callen plans to keep the building and hopes to use the second-floor facade's bricks in a reconstruction. They are being removed brick by brick.

The momentum to preserve the building this week has also led to an idea: create an emergency historic preservation team, Saul-Sena said.

It would be made up of Tampa's historic preservation manager, Tampa Fire Rescue officials, local architects, engineers and insurance agents.

This "SWAT team" would assemble when fire strikes a historic building to quickly assess what can be saved.

Saul-Sena said she will push to create it at a future council meeting.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

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