Costa Rican officials already are promising to rebuild The Black Star Line, the iconic, 94-year-old community center in Limón Centro that fire destroyed Friday.
A Costa Rican official equated The Black Star Line with the Teatro Nacional, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles and the Ruinas de Cartago.
The two-story frame structure was the headquarters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association created and directed by Marcus Garvey. The name came from the steamship company Garvey created in 1919.
The alarm came in at 5:15 a.m., and when fire fighters arrived minutes later, flames were shooting several hundred feet into the air. The blaze started in the northern part of the building and slowly worked its way to the best-known part on a corner.
Fire fighters blamed an electrical problem and said investigators found damaged cables in two places. A chocolate store, a restaurant and a dance studio were in the structure and suffered the same fate.
The building had been flagged by the Ministerio de Salud for its electrical system that lacked a ground and because the building did not have fire detectors and alarms.
The structure gained the title of patrimonio histórico arquitectónico in 2000, and the Centro de Patrimonio and the building manager, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, were working on a remodeling plan, said the Centro.
President Luis Guillermo Solís on a recent visit to Limón spoke of the need to fix up the structure.
He said Friday that the country needs to rebuild the Black Star Line identical to the way it was. He also praised Liberty Hall, the second floor meeting and activities area of the building.
Sylvie Durán, the minister of Cultura y Juventud, called the damage an irreparable loss
that should be felt by the entire national community.
William Monge, director of the ministry’s Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural, left for the Caribbean coast when he heard of the fire. He brought a team with him.
The Centro said that the first job would be to salvage what was possible from the ashes for future use. Items included historic door locks and other valuable and historic pieces.
He was quoted as saying Centro experts would evaluate the structure to see if more damage could be avoided. Some first-floor walls are standing, but most of the structure has been gutted. Fire fighters said they managed to save 385 square meters of the 1,525-square meter building. That’s 4,144 of 16,415 square feet.
It was William Monge who equated the structure to the other three Costa Rican historic sites.
It would be hard to overestimate the significance of the building to residents of Limón.
The queen of the Carnavales de Limón has been crowned there since 1949. There were thousands of civic and private events in the Salón Libertad or Liberty Hall.
Garvey, a Jamaican, was in the forefront of the back-to-Africa movement and set up the steamship company partly for that purpose.
The company suffered from poor management and only lasted three years. The offices in Costa Rica were in the Limón building.
Garvey also was a passionate crusader for black rights, education and economic well-being.
The New Orleans style structure with a wrap-around second-floor balcony stood on pilings, which is typical of Caribbean buildings to prevent the entrance of water and small animals and insects.
The building suffered heavy damage in the 1991 earthquake, and had been restored.