Fla. art gallery 'a total loss' after early-morning fire
The gallery, known for its watercolor paintings, was reduced to just its frame
The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A stalwart art gallery known for showcasing its watercolor paintings depicting scenes of coastal life was left with not much more than its frame after it went up in flames early Thursday morning.
When Panama City Fire Department received the 3:49 a.m. call to the Paul Brent Gallery, 413 W. Fifth St., firefighters found the wood frame structure fully engulfed. PCFD Division Chief Scott Flitcraft was on scene shortly thereafter.
"We really don't know anything about how it started," Flitcraft said. "Our goal was to keep people safe when they got on scene. Obviously, it was a total loss."
No injuries were immediately reported. However, because the building was still unsafe in the early hours Thursday, crews had yet to actually enter the burnt structure to further investigate.
Four engines and a tower rig, along with 15 PCFD personnel responded to the scene. At the time of arrival, the fire was under control and had not caused damage to any other structure, according to a PCFD news release.
The gallery had been closed since the hurricane and crews had recently begun repairs to the building from damages caused by Hurricane Michael.
Owner Paul Brent opened the art gallery and studio in 1990.
"It's sad for Paul Brent, for sure," Flitcraft said. "It's tough to see this — when somebody is just trying to bounce back from Hurricane Michael and then have this loss. It's an extra kick in the gut."
The State Fire Marshal is currently investigating the case.
Brent stood just feet from the charred wood frame gallery on Thursday.
"It was still smoldering this morning, but they already had a dog on scene to check for accelerants," he said.
Brent salvaged much of his work from the building after Hurricane Michael. About a third of his paintings and products were damaged in the storm. He's been working out of his Cove neighborhood home ever since and that business model will stay in place for now.
A new roof was installed months ago and workers had just completed plumbing and mechanical repairs. Scaffolding was in place to begin exterior stucco work and the contractor had projected that he could move back into the space in February or March 2020, Brent said.
Brent said it was too soon for him to say if he would rebuild — again — but he vowed to continue being part of the downtown arts scene.
"A lot of our cultural institutions were damaged by the hurricane," he said, listing the Martin Theatre and Marina Civic Center as examples. "Now it will be even more difficult and a much longer process if we do build back, just to get back to where we were before the hurricane."
Brent, who served for four years as president of the Bay Arts Alliance, said the fine and performing arts were integral to Panama City's culture and he was encouraged by the city's recent focus on the arts through its Quality of Life department.
"I plan on being active with the arts community, no matter what," Brent said. "I have paintings planned, and I'm working on one right now. We will have to rethink whatever we really want to do, as far as being at that location and being part of the arts."
The News Herald's Tony Simmons contributed to this story.
©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)