ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- The old St. Ann’s Hospital on North 13th and Cypress street burned down Thursday night. Abilene firefighters worked for over an hour and a half to contain the blaze in the densely populated North Abilene neighborhood. People far and near saw the smoke, such as nearby resident Briana Smith.
“We didn’t have time to grab anything. I was scared everybody was just in panic because we’re like. What if this fire do not get calmed down and it spreads?” said Smith, who lives just behind the structure.
Both the two story structure and adjoining building were uninhabited and had been long vacant. Fire Chief Cande Flores says since the buildings were empty, containment of spread was key in their plan of attack.
“We didn’t attempt to go inside, I mean there really was nothing inside to save. So everything was outside and it was just a surround and drown type scenario,” Flores said.
The cause of the fire is still unknown. This fire is the second in 5 years for the historic structure, the previous taking place in 2017.
The property was recently donated to Habitat for Humanity by it’s former owner, a non-profit out of Dallas. Following the 2017 fire, the Dallas non-profit had tried to convert the building into housing for the homeless. That plan fell through due to a change in State tax credit law.
Rosten Callarman, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, shared his thoughts with KTAB/KRBC.
“There was still always a pretty solid core of people who thought man something needs to happen there,” said Callarman. “It’s just as time went on it became more and more obvious that it was just going to be impossible for something to happen with that structure.”
St. Ann’s first opened in 1938 holding many different purposes through the years. First as a maternity hospital, and later as a home and treatment center for mentally challenged adults. It’s doors closed in 1968 and future efforts to revitalize the building fell through.
“For such a long time it had been such a place of hope for the neighborhood, a place where kids were born, that’s like the most hopeful thing that happens in the human existence. But when that hope turns into such a dilapidated structure, that becomes the opposite of hope, it becomes despair,” Callarman said.
Callarman said when the city condemned the building, Habitat for Humanity was one of the first organizations they contacted to bring new life to the land.
“That old vision was good and it was beautiful but what’s gonna happen here is probably even more appropriate for this neighborhood,” said Callarman.
Callarman who formerly lived across from St. Ann’s with a group of friends, said they always had a vision to purchase the building and turn it into something beneficial to the community.
Habitat for Humanity will now be continuing with their plan to clear the land and build low-income single family homes.
“There will be grandparents here, there will be young mothers, young fathers here, and that’s what neighborhoods are for anyways.” Said Callarman.
As the project moves forward, Callarman said Habitat will need help from the community to bring this brighter future to life on this historic spot.
“Even if this appears as a tragedy now and it really is there’s a lot of good that’s going to happen.”