The Blanche Hotel (Part I)
The visit • The fire inspection
Columbia County, FL (posted
Lake City Assistant Fire Chief Frank Armajo prepares the
fire report on the Blanche Hotel. Chief Armajo told the
Observer, "We are doing this by the book," which can be
seen in front of him.
To view a photo gallery of the Blanche --
Go to Photo Gallery
On October 9, 2009, as the tide of conversation began
rising around the Blanche Hotel in downtown Lake City,
your reporter took his first look inside the Blanche. It
was a sight that truly took ones breath away.
The grandness of the old building, on the historical
register, was musty and dank reflecting years of
neglect. The front desk was unoccupied, the paint was
peeling and yellowed, the carpet should have been at the
curb, the center rail of the grand staircase was removed
and the bathroom by the restaurant was disgusting and
This once grand old lady surely had more than just
one foot in the grave.
The carpet in the main meeting room is disgusting.
Go to Photo Gallery
A quick walk up the stairs to the second floor, a
floor which has been described as in almost move in
condition was no better than the first. The giant stains
in the carpet, of what was described as the main meeting
room, and in the hall leading to the offices of the
occupied area of the Blanche were nauseating.
The peeling paint and black mold played second fiddle
to the doors, which led to the third floor and would
have been an escape route in the event of a fire. They
were screwed shut in the unlighted stair well which led
In the event of a fire, this faded grand old lady was
a death trap.
The Observer wasted no time in visiting Lake City's
top fireman, Chief Carlton Tunsil.
Two hours later, the Observer received a phone
message from Assistant Chief Frank Armajo: "Mr.
Lilker, thank you for reporting the violations. The fire
inspection is scheduled for Tuesday. If you have any
questions, please give me a call."
On Thursday, October 16th, your reporter met with
Assistant Chief Frank Armajo to discuss the findings of
the fire inspection.
Chief Armajo again thanked the Observer for reporting
his observations to the fire department and encouraged
anyone who sees what they think are fire violations to
report them to the fire department, explaining that the
identity of anyone that reports a violation is kept
Chief Armajo went over his findings.
Chief Armajo said, "We made them immediately unscrew
the doors. That's life threatening. We put fire line
tape across the stairwells. In a fire you can cross it."
This poor creature did not escape the Blanche Hotel. The
Lake City Fire Department and the Observer want to make
sure this doesn't happen to you.
Go to Photo Gallery
Chief Armajo explained that the city is making their
pictures and the fire report available to anyone who
wants it. "All one has to do is bring a new cd to the
city and they will swap you for a copy with the
information burned on it. There is no charge for this."
As always, Lake City is the poster child for open
Assist. Chief Armajo inspected all areas of the
Blanche, including the existing businesses. He told the
Observer that the merchants were glad they were there
and told him, "Now we'll get something done in this
Assist. Chief Armajo discussed the electrical needs
of the building. "They changed the place from a
transient motel to a place of business. When the
occupancy changes that requires a fire inspection. You
change the occupancy – it [the Blanche] is not
engineered for offices."
Assist. Chief Armajo went over more of his findings.
He said the air conditioners must have fire sprinklers
underneath them because of their size -- they weren't
there; hallways were blocked; the firewalls aren't to
code; the stairwells are pulling away from the walls;
the storage rooms are not to code; all the sprinkler
heads have to be replaced; the sprinkler heads are
upside down; many electrical violations; one of the
doors going to an outside stairwell was locked; there
will need to be an asbestos check; there is pigeon guano
on the floor; some places that needed fire sprinklers
don't have them.
It was pure turpentine.
Assist. Chief Armajo said he took some of the lath
and smelled it. "It was pure turpentine. We took some
outside and lit it – it went up like kindling. This is a
lightered building... It took two days to do the
Because of the perceived interest of the county,
Chief Armajo invited a representative of the County Fire
Department to come along during his inspection. No one
from the Columbia County Fire Department showed up.
The conversation continued and concluded with Chief
Armajo again explaining that the fire report, the
results of the Blanche Hotel fire inspection should be
available soon and will be available to the public in
Chief Armajo said, "We are doing this by the book."