Surviving John Muir treasures bound for big chill

The shell has little left to offer, just blackened walls, ashes and rubble.

The vintage brick building in Modesto once was a youth center, and before that was John Muir School in the 1950s. It had become little more than a storage shed before it burned Sunday.

The one room left more or less untouched by the fire that gutted the building and the water used to douse the flames yielded its last historical treasures Friday afternoon.

The cleanup crew from Belfor Property Restoration was preparing to move most artifacts and documents into a deep freeze. That was delayed until a hazardous materials team from Fresno could clean all salvaged items of asbestos.

Kevin Lahey, Belfor's general manager from Tracy, sympathized with the community's loss of the building at 800 E. Morris Ave., adjacent to T.B. Scott Park.

"I used to drop my sister off for dances at that building. What a shame," he said. "We're glad we can help salvage something."

Lahey lived in the La Loma area in the 1970s. His father ran a restaurant on 12th Street.

Ron Rodgers, a city worker with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department, said the temporary deep freeze planned for most items was the only possible solution.

"The greatest danger is if they dry out too fast," he said.

Items left in the room included two pianos, late-19th-century furniture from the McClure mansion and an unknown cache of documents. Those documents will be inventoried in the future after they are safe to handle.

Monday, the city is expected to begin demolition and cleanup of the building site. It is sur- rounded by a temporary fence and guarded around the clock.

Marsha Magin lives across the street on Morris in a house she bought 30 years ago. She said she hoped the city would salvage more.

"The building has always been friendly. It has good vibes. They should save the arches and make a pathway through them. They don't do brickwork like that anymore."

Besides the artistry, Magin believed there was something deeper at stake.

"They say buildings have a spirit," she said. "If so, it's still in the bricks and the bricks should be reused right here where they belong."

Bee staff writer Roger Hoskins can be reached at rhoskins@modbee.com or 578-2311.

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