Rising above the fire
WILLMAR — It was more than 25 years ago when a fire nearly destroyed the building which housed John's Supper Club and several apartments in May 1991. Today, the building is almost ready for occupancy, as most repairs have been completed.
"The building has been under construction for a long time. Believe it or not most of the work has been completed," said Bruce Peterson, Willmar Planning and Development Services director, during the Sept. 15 Community Development Committee meeting.
It is now up to Paul Kidrowski, owner of the building, to find tenants. He purchased the building in the 1990s.
"It was a business deal," Kidrowski said, in an interview with the Tribune.
Since then he has been making repairs. Kidrowski said the entire building was gutted and then reconstructed to meet current code and to become handicap accessible.
"Basically everything," needed to be rebuilt, Kidrowski said
The fire during the early morning hours of May 15, 1991, that caused all the damage, was intentionally set. Everyone inside the building was able to make it out, however, three people were injured in the blaze. Two suffered leg injuries after jumping from the second story of the building and another person was hurt after crossing over to the adjoining roof of the building next door.
The fire department was able to save the adjoining buildings by forcing the fire up through the roof and second floor windows. The building itself suffered smoke and water damage and has sat empty since the fire.
According to the Tribune archives, Fred Plata, a former Willmar resident who was trying to get back at an ex-girlfriend who lived in the building, set fire to a paperback book and threw it under the bed in a vacant room in the building. He also poured gasoline along the floor near the apartments and down the stairwell, to cut off an escape route.
Plata pleaded guilty to first-degree arson in 1994, and was sentenced to 68 months in prison for the crime. Charges of first, and second degree attempted murder were dropped in a plea deal.
Repair work on the building took years, with the city having to extend the deadline on getting the project done several times.
"Most of the work was code changes," Kidrowski said.
Peterson said the city gave Kidrowski an open-ended building permit to get the work completed.
"Mr. Kidrowski has done what he was supposed to do," Peterson said.
The building located on Benson Avenue Southwest and 3rd Street was built in the late 1800s and was home to wide range of businesses, including a furniture store, photo studio and restaurants, according to the Tribune archives. In September 1933 Coffee John's was opened.
Don and June Kennel owned and operated the building and John's Supper Club for 34 years, until Don's death in 1990. Judy Hookum took over the restaurant from the Kennels and ran it until the fire.
Today there are seven apartments in the building, six upstairs and one handicap accessible apartment on the main floor. Kidrowski said he is waiting for final approval from the city before finding tenants for the units. He also plans to operate his business, Paul's Electric of Willmar, along with managing his other rental properties, from the main floor.
"I've always needed an office," Kidrowski said.
"It is a good feeling to be this close to completion," Kidrowski said.
It is also a relief that soon he will be done with all the red tape that went along with the project.
"I never knew government bureaucracy could be so testing," Kidrowski said.