Fundraisers Launched to Aid Artists Affected By Devastating Alpine Fire

by Michelle Kraft June 13, 2024

Following the fire that devastated a historic building in its downtown tourism district, Alpine’s Gallery Night, Inc., is organizing a fundraiser to benefit the artists of Gallery on the Square (GOTS). The gallery — which is sponsored by the Big Bend Arts Council and serves the arts communities of Presidio, Jeff Davis, and Brewster counties — was located at 115 Holland Avenue. Almost all artworks housed in the gallery were destroyed in the blaze, which also claimed four additional local businesses: Eva’s Salon, La Azteca Jewelry, Vintage Antiques and Snazzy Things, and Judy’s Bread and Breakfast Bakery Café.

A photograph of a firefighter working to extinguish a fire in a building.

Gallery on the Square fire, photo: Gregory Tegarden.

According to a City of Alpine Police Department press release, heavy smoke was reported coming from Judy’s Bread and Breakfast at 113 West Holland Avenue, at approximately 3:43 p.m. on Sunday, May 26, 2024. The entire structure was quickly engulfed. Along with Alpine Fire, first responders from multiple agencies also aided, including Brewster County Sheriff’s Office, Texas DPS and Fire personnel, Marathon Volunteer Fire, Terlingua Fire, Fort Davis Volunteer Fire, Marfa Volunteer Fire, Jeff Davis County Fire, and Texas Forestry Fire. No one was injured in the blaze. The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing and has now been turned over to the State Fire Marshall’s Office.

On the day of the fire, Amanda Calhoun, Director of the GOTS, which is adjacent to Judy’s Bread and Breakfast, received a call from Yosdy Valdivia, the artist who was working at the gallery. Ms. Valdivia reported smoke coming through the back of the building. “Get out and call 9-1-1,” Ms. Calhoun directed her, before she and her husband, Sul Ross ceramics professor Gregory Tegarden, drove the five minutes to the gallery. They arrived before the fire department. The three entered the gallery twice to retrieve what artworks they could; but by the third attempt, smoke had filled the space to the point that they could no longer enter. Mr. Tegarden moved to the alley and witnessed smoke pouring from the vent hood of Judy’s Bread and Breakfast. By that time, firefighters started to arrive and began extinguishing the blaze.

Ms. Calhoun told Glasstire, “There was an hour-and-a-half lull, where we thought maybe everything would be okay.” At that point, they hoped that the gallery and its contents had sustained no fire, soot, or water damage. “But then suddenly, everything went.” The flames had apparently moved into the space between the ceiling and the roof; by evening, the entire structure was engulfed.

Textile and jewelry artist Sally Turcot, who serves on the gallery steering committee, lives about 12 miles outside of Alpine; she, too, received a call about the fire. Ms. Turcot told Glasstire, “I could see the smoke as we drove down the mountain, and when we got down there, there were ashes the size of my palm flying through the air.” But, she added, “It wasn’t real until we drove into town… Seeing it burn, and when I heard this pop-pop-pop — when I saw flames, but the sign still said, ‘Gallery on the Square’ — I just lost it.” Before the fire, the gallery had experienced one of its strongest sales months ever. “Since it was Memorial Day weekend, everybody had stocked the gallery.” 

Among those who lost works were 27 member artists, as well as students in the Sul Ross University Art Club. “About three days later is when it kicked me in the heart,” remembered Mr. Tegarden. He estimates that he lost about 25 pieces in the fire, but he’s more upset about the college students whose works were destroyed. There are also those artists, he added, who spent months creating their artworks, now gone.   

A photograph of the aftermath of a fire in Alpine Texas.

Fire aftermath, photo: Tim McKenna.

Ms. Calhoun said the gallery members convened almost immediately to begin discussions surrounding a new space. “The gallery became the base of the Big Bend Arts Council,” she explained. “Anyone in the region could have a space to show art.” Her biggest fear, she said, was that the art community in Alpine would fall apart in the wake of the disaster. “It is important to have an actual, physical location.” 

A photograph of the exterior of Gallery on the Square in Alpine, Texas.

Gallery on the Square. Photo Courtesy of Gallery on the Square, Alpine

GOTS’ former location, the unnamed historic building, sits adjacent to Alpine’s Holland Hotel, between 5th and 6th Streets, and is owned by Bill Ivey. It was constructed in 1911, after the original structure was also lost to a fire. Mr. Ivey has stated that  the current building was uninsured because he was unaware that the coverage had lapsed. Historic Alpine, Inc., noted, “This historic structure, a pillar of our architectural heritage and a cultural icon has been lost to flames. In these critical times, our community must understand the importance of cleanup and rebuilding this iconic structure for downtown Alpine’s long-term health and vibrancy.”  

On June 4, Mayor Catherine Eaves declared a local state of emergency, saying, “I am doing this to ensure that we do all that we can to provide the utmost level of assistance in response to the massive fire that occurred downtown.” This declaration activates Alpine’s Emergency Management Plan, and associated assistance, and remains in place for up to seven days, unless renewed by the city council.

Ms. Turcot, Mr. Tegarden, and Ms. Calhoun all cited the close-knit arts community in the region. Alpine Artwalk immediately jumped into action, Ms. Calhoun explained. “They contacted me and said, ‘We’re here for the arts. We’re here for you.’” 

Alpine’s Gallery Night, Inc.’s upcoming fundraiser, Saving the Arts in Alpine, TX, is scheduled for Saturday, June 29, at the American Legion Hall, located at 306 West Sul Ross Avenue. The event, which takes place from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., will include music, a silent auction, and a fajitas plate for $20, with all proceeds benefiting GOTS artists who lost works in the fire. For more information, contact [email protected]. Donations may also be made directly to the Big Bend Arts Council.

Additional fundraisers, benefitting all the merchants whose livelihoods were affected by the fires, have also been launched through Trans Pecos Bank and Historic Alpine, Inc. These initiatives serve the purpose of quickly providing assistance — within the first 90 days after the fires — to aid affected businesses in reopening in new locations, as well as to restore lost income, provide short-term financial relief, and aid with other necessary expenses in the wake of the disaster. Donations for these efforts may be made to:

Historic Alpine, Inc.
P.O. Box 304
Alpine, TX 79831 (Please mark as Alpine Business Fire Relief Fund)

1 comment

1 comment

Tim McKenna June 13, 2024 - 11:50

Thank you so much for calling attention to these much needed fundraisers for our local businesses. Having lost all of my work displayed in Gallery on the Square in this fire along with 26 other artists as well, the need now is tremendous. I attended a meeting with the leadership and many of the GOTS membership last evening and the spirit showed there was that we must reopen as soon as we possibly can. Plans are underway to do just that. Thanks again so much and thanks to all who have and will donate to this worthy cause. It is appreciated.


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