Monday, Jan. 7, will be the four-year anniversary of the downtown fire that claimed three historic buildings and almost took out the beloved Imogene Theatre. Damage estimates were placed around $2 million at the time.
Residents came from all over Santa Rosa County to watch firefighters work at saving the Imogene and fight to keep the blaze from spreading to other downtown structures.
Witnesses told the Press Gazette in 2009 that the building behind the Imogene was on fire first. At the time, the building housed Polk-a-Dots toy store. It later was determined the fire likely was caused by an electrical short.
It was reported 75 firefighters from 12 stations worked together to fight the fire. Two firefighters were trapped inside a burning building at one point when a ceiling collapsed on them. With the help of a Rapid Intervention Team made up of firefighters trained in rescue, no one was seriously injured. One firefighter suffered from the heat of the fire and was taken to the Santa Rosa Medical Center for treatment.
The fire occurred near a haunting anniversary: On Jan. 30, 1909, a fire destroyed downtown Milton, resulting in the construction of some of the structures that were destroyed in the 2009 fire.
Firefighters focused a large constant stream of water on the Imogene Theatre in an attempt to save it. Even with the effort, the Imogene suffered serious water, fire and smoke damage to its interior. An intensive clean-up and restoration took years, with the theatre finally reopening in 2012.
The Imogene Theatre just passed a 100-year-anniversary. It was built in 1912 — deliberately out of bricks — to help prevent the fire damage that destroyed downtown Milton so many times before. The Milton post office was even relocated inside the Imogene on the first floor until 1940. The thinking was that the brick construction would be more secure to protect the mail.
Information provided by the Santa Rosa Historical Society says the Imogene was built as a Vaudeville theatre and originally opened under the name of the Milton Auditorium. The theatre was renamed in 1920 after the owner’s daughter, Imogene Gooch.