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Early-Morning Fire Destroys Historic Golden West Saloon

By Dan McKay/
Journal Staff Writer
      An early-morning fire devastated the historic Golden West Saloon — where the roof collapsed — and damaged the adjoining El Rey Theater, a fire official said today.
    Two Albuquerque firefighters suffered injuries while battling the flames, but neither injury was life-threatening, said Melissa Romero, spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Fire Department. One person had an ankle injury, the other a head injury.

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Kathy Zimmer, who owns the building that houses both Golden West Saloon and El Rey Theater, talks on a cell phone after an early morning blaze destroyed the Downtown bar.

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  •     Kathy Zimmer, who owns the building that houses both Golden West and El Rey, said she would need community support to rebuild. Golden West suffered the most serious damage, she said, but El Rey may escape with only smoke and water damage.
        She said she hopes to start having shows at El Rey again by next weekend.
        "I'm thankful that there wasn't more damage," Zimmer said, "but they had to put a lot of water on it to put the fire out."
        Blackened debris lay in the street on 7th Street, and smoke was still climbing out of the structure about 9:45 a.m. Firefighters said they were on the verge of putting the fire out.
        A cause hasn't been determined yet.
        The saloon was built in 1929, and El Rey was built in 1941. Both are known for attracting top-notch bands and musicians. The building that houses them is on the state Register of Cultural Properties.
        "We're going to need community help, or I'm not going to be able to do it," Zimmer said of the prospects for reopening the entire structure.
        Romero said firefigthers responded just before 6 a.m. They attacked flames by heading inside the saloon at first but left shortly before the roof collapsed.
        "The Golden (West) Saloon was burning pretty good, so we exited the building and fought it from outside," Romero said.
        About 20 trucks and at least 60 firefighters were on hand. Power was out in some parts of Downtown, a routine procedure for fighting a structure fire, Romero said.
        Power was initially out for about 700 people. By mid-morning, only about 39 customers didn't have power, a spokeswoman for the Public Service Co. of New Mexico said.
        Some Downtown schools canceled or delayed classes
        Nearby St. Mary's School announced a two-hour delay when the fire was first reported but later decided to cancel classes for the day. Amy Biehl Charter School was on a two-hour delay at last report.
        And Albuquerque Public Schools decided to send students home from Lew Wallace Elementary School at 9:30 a.m. after smoke from the fire blocks away seeped into classrooms, APS spokesman Rigo Chavez told the Journal.
        A world-class cellist, Matt Haimovitz, is schedule to play March 9. Zimmer said she hopes that show will go on as scheduled at El Rey.
        El Rey and Golden West lie at the intersection of Seventh and Central SW.