Ashland Was Set to Be a Food Paradise. Then Came the Almeda Fire.
By Jennifer S. L. Stewart
The year was 1995. In the spring of that year, a group of men were preparing to burn down an iconic downtown staple, The Almeda. The fire that destroyed the iconic downtown food and beer hall and took five firefighters’ lives was an act of self-destruction, or so the public perception was. In reality, a fire at a place made famous by its failure to meet the expectations of its own founders, and the financial failures and legal troubles that led to the failure of the building’s long-time owner, were an inevitable result of a failed plan to build a new hotel on the site. It also led to the collapse of the once-booming small town that was originally a part of the proposed development plan and became its own cautionary tale about what can happen when a small town is overextended and doesn’t have the resources to handle the unexpected. The fire that brought down the town was another firestorm that showed that no development plan is safe, and no town is a safe harbor. No matter how much money there may be to protect the interests of the town or to pay for fire fighters’ salaries, things will eventually go wrong at some point.
The Almeda Fire at the corner of Fifth St and High St. in Almeda. (Courtesy of the City of Almeda)
The years following the Almeda’s demolition were a time of both upheaval and rebirth for the small city that had once been a part of a plan to make it a destination for tourists and a place where people from around the country could go for work. Like the Almeda and many of the other businesses near the intersection, The Almeda had an owner who was constantly trying to sell the business, who was trying to change its name, and who was trying to get the zoning for the location changed. The business of The Almeda was struggling to survive, and was just beginning to come to terms with its role in the ever-evolving culture of the new town of Almeda. The owners, who were local restaurateurs who were not the biggest customers, who were not the biggest players in the restaurants they owned, struggled