63°

Repair work starts on burned-out "Wig-O-Rama" building downtown

January 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

A year after a fire demolished a downtown building, it remains vacant. Its back wall — demolished shortly after the January 2013 blaze — is still laid bare to vagrants and vandalism.

The three-section building was also once home to Wig-O-Rama and Voodoo Jack’s Lounge, which were also forced out by the fire.

In December, repair work started, said Suzi Kim, daughter of Myung Soo Kim, who owns the property and Wig-O-Rama, a downtown Tucson fixture for almost 40 years.

The first step is to work on electrical systems, Suzi Kim said. Right now, that process is focused on Wig-O-Rama.

The entire building will be restored eventually, but Kim said her mother’s first priority is to repair Wig-O-Rama so it can return to its long-time home at the southeast corner of East Congress and South Scott Avenue.

“We’re not sure exactly how much longer it would take. It’s a progress in the works,” she said. “A couple of times, (the restoration) has been stopped due to permit issues.”

There was a further complication for the Kims because the temporary space Wig-O-Rama is renting on North Sixth Avenue is scheduled to be rebuilt also. Kim said now they’re looking for another temporary location for the wig shop while the Congress Street location is being restored.

“We’re not even sure where we’re going to go, or if we can go anywhere,” she said.

As for the partially demolished section of the building, Kim said her mother and potential tenants are still deciding how that space will be rebuilt and used.

City Planning and Development Director Ernie Duarte said boards and fences were installed around the building to keep it secure while it is being restored.

“Our priority is to make sure that it’s secure and that people aren’t getting in there,” he said.

Those measures have not stopped some. The building shows evidence of vandalism, with graffiti on the interior walls, as well as the exterior.

“If there are some neighborhood-preservation ordinance violations that require us to go in and force a cleanup, then we can do that,” Duarte said. “To my knowledge, I don’t know that we have any violations at this point.”

Kim said she is not aware of any current vandalism damage, but graffiti was a constant problem even before the fire.

“We’re going to take more security precautions in the future,” she said.

A wine bar opened in the building next door last September.

Frank Lietzau, owner of Unplugged, an “all-natural wine bar,” said there was “still a building there” when he signed the lease, but that the subsequent fire did not deter him from moving in.

“There was no reason to change our plans,” he said.

Lietzau said he is not concerned about the neighboring building sitting vacant for more than a year because it has not affected his business, but is hoping to see its “authentic Tucson vibe” restored.

“All these buildings — people don’t do it anymore,” he said of the decades-old downtown streetscape. “The buildings have character.”

Michael Keith, CEO of Downtown Tucson Partnership, said restoration of the damaged building is important in maintaining a “historic presence” downtown because it “completes that block.”

“It’s very important to create an authentic sense of place downtown and continue to reveal as many of the historic fronts as we can up and down the street,” he said.