BELLEFONTE — Those gathered around East High Street on Sunday afternoon couldn’t help that the thought crossed their minds.
“It’s like we’re cursed,” said Brian Dann, putting into words what so many seemed to be thinking after an early morning blaze destroyed another historic downtown building.
This time it was the former Garman Hotel, which housed the Do De Hotel, owned by Dann’s father, John Dann Sr.
Less than three years ago, in December 2009, it was the Cadillac Building on the corner of Bishop and Allegheny streets that burned.
The building’s shell remains, its third flood open to the elements, as its owner and borough and county officials continue to discuss its fate.
In February 2006, fire consumed the 138-year-old Bush House, a hotel that once hosted luminaries from Amelia Earhart to Thomas Edison.
In July 2004, it was the 200-year-old Bellefonte Academy, a former school converted into apartments.
Both buildings are gone. The Bush House collapsed in the blaze, and the Bellefonte Academy was later torn down.
After the latest fire on Sunday, some Bellefonte residents said they have noticed a trend — one that follows the alphabet.
“The academy was the first, then the Bush House and the Cadillac Building, now this (the Do De building),” said Christina Bicen, of Bellefonte, who was inspecting the damage Sunday afternoon.
“Before you know it, all the historical buildings will be gone,” she said. “It’s a shame.”
Bellefonte Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said borough officials and the building’s owner share the residents’ grief.
“We’re upset about it,” he said Sunday evening. “It’s a major loss as far as historical buildings in our downtown.”
Stewart said the borough council has taken steps in recent years to try and prevent these fires, such as requiring businesses to pass commercial fire safety inspections and replacing fire hydrants.
“It’s a concern,” he said. “But you have to look at the facts — try to figure out how did the fire start. In some of these cases, it’s nothing to do with the building itself — kids playing with matches. There is nothing you could pinpoint to be more preventative.”
Stewart said the age of Bellefonte’s downtown buildings makes it more difficult to contain the spread of a blaze. Sprinklers, for instance, he said, aren’t always effective when flames travel from the rafter’s of one building to another.
The Hotel Do De had no sprinklers, its owner said. An alarm system alerted those in the building of the fire.
“It’s hard to prepare or take steps to be preventative,” he said. “Yes, fire sprinklers can help, but not in all cases.”
Still, some expressed frustration that the borough has lost another landmark.
“This is important,” said Judy Pugh, who lives across High Street. “This is our history. How much more has to burn down?”
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter