Historic preservationists are hoping to postpone demolition of the fire-gutted Young’s Cleaners on Main Street downtown long enough to preserve one of Pine Bluff’s famed murals.
Joy Blankenship, executive director of Pine Bluff Downtown Development, said Wednesday that she has been on the phone with different individuals in recent days trying to come up with a way to save the mural, which depicts the famous Cotton Belt Engine 819 and other scenes of railroad life.
“The Engine 819 mural is an important part of the city’s history and I hope a way can be found to save it,” Blankenship said. “When train enthusiasts come to town for the Railroad Museum, the Cotton Belt mural is one of the stops visitors frequently make. So it is an important part of what we have to offer.”
Richard Metcalf with Relyance Bank is the administrator of the Young family trust and is acting as the legal agent for the family in the cleanup of the Young’s Cleaners building.
“I’ve already signed a demolition contract and the guys are already over there,” Metcalf said Wednesday. “But I am happy to leave the mural wall up for the city. I was planning to offer the lot to the city anyway once the insurance money has been paid to the Young family.”
Metcalf said that before any agreement on the future of the mural wall can be reached, the city needs to provide an inspector to verify that the city will be able to stabilize and then maintain it.
“Once that has been agreed to, I am happy to tell the guys to stop work,” Metcalf said.
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said that her office was made aware of the situation Tuesday.
“We will need to do our due diligence to determine what liability issues there may be,” Hollingsworth said. “We would love to find a way to keep the Cotton Belt mural standing.”
Several pieces of heavy equipment were on site Wednesday afternoon. Demolition work on the back wall of the structure had already begun.
Pine Bluff City Council Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. said Friday that no city money is involved.
“This is a private agreement between the building’s owner and the contractor” Holcomb said. “No city funds are being used.”
Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said recently that an arson is suspected in the May 24 fire that destroyed the building.
“The building was vacant and not under operation, so that makes us think someone intentionally set this fire,” Howell said in May.
There were no injuries in the fire, which caused an estimated $75,000 in damage to the 15,000-square-foot structure at 917 S. Main St. Howell said at the time that fire crews were dispatched at 10:20 p.m. and were on the scene for five hours.
The curb lane of northbound Main Street along the length of the burned-out building has been roped off to traffic since the fire because of the presence of rubble close to the edge of the roadway.
There is a $2,500 reward for anyone with information about the fire leading to an arrest and a conviction. Anyone with information is asked to call 730-2048.