PHOTO by WADE PARHAM
Flames shot more than 100 feet in the air when fire was set to the former county hospital and Pike fraternity house. Nicholas Lane, 27, is serving eight years probation for the arson.
by BRAD ROLLINS
A 27-year-old man is serving eight years probation for igniting a blaze that destroyed the 101-year-old former hospital and Pike house on Belvin Street two years ago this month.
Nicholas Lane Ryan, who uses a Dripping Springs address in court documents, set fire to a couch on the third floor of the vacant landmark on April 9, 2007 while exploring the property.
He pled guilty in September to a second-degree felony count of arson and was sentenced by 22nd State District Judge Charles Ramsay to probation with deferred adjudication. Ryan was also ordered to pay $43,816 in restitution to the building’s owner, San Marcos developer Terry Gilmore.
Ryan avoided prison because he had no significant prior convictions and because the building was abandoned, said W. Paul Parash, his court-appointed attorney. Prosecutors’ attitude toward the crime seemed to be, Parash said, “that it was just a bunch of dumb kids. There was no malice involved.”
A 15-year-old boy was also charged with arson for his role in the fire but the disposition of that case is not known and District Attorney Sherri Tibbe declined to comment because he is a juvenile.
It was built in 1906 as a dormitory for the Coronal Institute, a Methodist school, and christened Fisher Hall. When the school closed in 1919, the building was used as a barracks for Southwest Texas Normal School’s army training corp. Starting in 1923, it was the Old Soldiers, Sailors and Marines hospital and served as the only hospital in the county. Bought by the American Legion in 1956, it was leased to San Marcos Baptist Academy, then a military-style academy, as the lower school. The cadets used to practice formations on the 3.7-acre grounds.
Then it became the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house in 1968 — and a flashpoint of town-and-gown tension with many of the neighbors angry about parties and noise.
“If it had burned down back then, there probably would have been about a hundred suspects within a couple blocks,” said Bill Cunningham, a future Texas State University regent chair who was a student at the time.
Fisher Hall was a fraternity house until 1998 when it was bought by Gilmore, whose younger brother was born there when it was a hospital. Gilmore intended to renovate the 12,500-square-foot building as his home but eventually abandoned the plan and it sat boarded-up and vacant for nearly a decade.
During this time, it became a rite of passage for young people in town to explore the stately Victorian Era building, drawn there by legends that the building was haunted, that it was once an insane asylum or that a fraternity pledge died there during a hazing ritual.
The crowd that turned out to watch it burn numbered in the thousands and included spectators of all ages. Before the ruins cooled, authorities had made arrests, tipped off by Lane’s juvenile sister-in-law who was outside when the fire started.
“Before the fire was even out, everyone was in jail,” Fire Marshal Ken Bell said.
The unstable shell of the building was demolished a few weeks after the fire.Email | Print