Fire hits downtown Elkhorn landmark

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Jan. 8, 2007, 10:10 a.m.)

moys fire fireman

Audio report

Moy's Restaurant employees were near tears as they watched firefighters this morning battle a smoky blaze in the historic downtown building.

"It's so sad. I've been here 26 years. I just want to cry," said waitress Jan Evans, who watched the fire with co-worker Mary Conrad, a 28-year veteran waitress.

"I'm devastated," was all Conrad could say.

Smoke caused damage throughout the 114-year-old four-story building on the corner of Walworth and Wisconsin streets. Moy's, located on the first floor of the building, is a popular Chinese eatery and lounge.
moys fire inside

Elkhorn Fire Chief Rod Smith said the fire is under investigation, but he said there's no reason to believe the cause is suspicious. He said the fire started in the kitchen area.

The blaze was reported at 5:17 a.m. and was under control by 6:30 a.m. About 75 firefighters from 17 fire departments contained the fire to the kitchen area, but smoke damaged most of the building, and water damaged in the first floor and basement, Smith said.

"My guys did a great job of containing it to the kitchen area," said Smith, who also praised the county's mutual aid box alarm system, which called in equipment from fire departments in Walworth, Waukesha, Rock, Racine and Kenosha counties.

The dining room sustained extensive damage from water and smoke, he said. Smith considers the rear, two-story portion of the building - including the kitchen - a total loss. Before the restaurant could re-open, he said, it would need updates throughout to meet today's stricter fire codes.

No damage estimate was available.

"I feel real, real bad," said owner Paul Moy, who owned the business since 1979. The restaurant and bar employed 26 people, who depend on the job for a steady income, Moy said.

Moy got a phone call from one of his cooks, who lives in an upstairs apartment in a building next door to the restaurant.

"He said, 'There is flames next door. There is smoke coming out of the restaurant.' I thought they were drunk," Moy said. "I said, 'You guys must be drunk. Don't play jokes.'"

But it wasn't a joke.

Moy said only he and his manager have a key to the restaurant, which is on the first floor of a historic, red brick hotel.

"I'm the first one to go into the restaurant and the last one to get out of the restaurant," Moy said of his daily ritual. "Every night I check the whole place--all the doors, all the stoves, they have to be shut off before I lock the door and go home."

Moy said he has insurance and intends to reopen as soon as he can.

This is the second time a restaurant Moy owned has caught fire. Moy rented a space in the Delavan House hotel and opened a Moy's restaurant there in the mid 1970s. The third floor of the Delavan House caught fire in January 1978 and burned the building to the ground.

No injuries were reported at Monday's blaze. The upstairs rooms were vacant, Moy said.

Moy's Restaurant is located in the turn-of-the-century Elkhorn House hotel building. "It had a clock on the corner of the building at the attic level, just below the roof line," according to an Elkhorn history book.

moys fire roomThe hotel opened in 1893 and was "one of the city's imposing landmarks," according to the history book. It became the Loraine Hotel in 1929 and remained that way until the mid 1960s, after which it was only used as a restaurant.

Elkhorn resident Thomas Pidcock said he arrived on the scene about 5:30 a.m. and didn't see any flames, only a lot of smoke pouring from the windows.

Firefighters smashed most of the first- and second-story windows to ventilate smoke from the building. The structure of the building appeared intact.

Pidcock was relieved the fire didn't spread down the block, where buildings are built tight together. An accountant's office is east of Moy's. A vacant office is on the north side of the restaurant. Both Wisconsin and Walworth streets are packed with businesses.

Steve Dolphin works at QPS Companies, a staffing firm east of Moy's. He said the business is a landmark for the city and the county.

"Moy's is a point-of-reference for Elkhorn," Dolphin said. "They always seemed to do good business. We often took our customers there, and we sometimes had internal luncheons as well.

"I'd like to see them rebuild. Businesses with that kind of notoriety are a draw for downtown and they help the downtown."

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