An overnight fire destroyed a popular gay nightclub in Fort Worth that at one time was the flashpoint for conflict between police and the city’s LGBT community.
Fire tore through a popular bar early Thursday around 3 a.m. It was the same bar that was at the center of a controversial raid several years ago.
Rodger Fisher, who lives nearby, said he was heading home and saw heavy smoke and lots of flames. Firefighters were already at the scene by that time.
“It was pretty large. By the time I got there the whole roof seemed to be engulfed. The fire department was already here taking care of business,” Fisher said.
Initially, firefighters did go inside the building to try to put out the flames. But when the roof started buckling, they immediately got out. The building is now just a shell and will need to be demolished.
The bar was closed at the time and no one was hurt. Some employees were still there. They were locking up when they noticed smoke.
The Rainbow Lounge was put in the national spotlight in 2009 and became a symbol of change for LGBT rights. Eight years ago, a confrontation erupted involving Fort Worth police and TABC agents during a raid. One man got a head injury and five others were arrested. Following an investigation, two TABC agents were fired and three Fort Worth officers were suspended.
"There is a history here,” said Michael Malone, who was a regular customer. “Fort Worth did a lot with police diversity because of what happened and maybe how they look at this community now where they didn't before. So, there's a lot of history that is also going. If the club goes, the history goes with it as well."
It's not clear if the Rainbow Lounge owner will relocate or if there will ever be a bar on the property again.
Ray Williams' family has owned the land for about 50 years. He leased the building to the Rainbow Lounge. Right now, he has no plans to rebuild, especially with rising property values in the area just south of downtown.
"I know property values in this area have just skyrocketed in the last three years,” he said. “So it may be more advantageous just to scrape and sell the land."
Williams says he is self-insured and is not inclined to rebuild. For someone else to buy the property and rebuild is not impossible, but will be expensive.
Firefighters believe the fire was accidental and caused by either a faulty air conditioning unit on the roof of an ice machine inside the building. Investigators will determine the exact cause.