Fire closes landmark community hall in Gustine

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comApril 28, 2014 

Fire ripped through the roof of a decades-old community hall over the weekend in Gustine.

The Gustine Pentecost Society Hall sustained about $25,000 in damage Sunday afternoon when fire raced through the roof and attic, the Merced County Fire Department reported.

The hall is located at 500 Third Avenue in Gustine. No one was inside the 70-plus-year-old landmark and no injuries were reported, but the popular festival hall is closed until further notice, according to the Gustine Pentecost Society board of directors, which operates the hall.

“We’re going to rebuild, that’s for sure. It will get fixed up,” said John Nunes, a board member. “It means a lot to a lot of people; it’s a key part of the whole community.”

The fire was reported about 4:15 p.m. Sunday by a man who stopped at the Gustine fire station, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn said. “He drove by the building and saw that it was on fire and reported it,” he said.

About 25 firefighters from the Merced County Fire Department, along with Gustine and Newman volunteer fire departments, responded the blaze, which was extinguished about 7:30 p.m. The building’s fire sprinklers helped suppress the flames, firefighters said.

“There was damage to the roof and attic areas and water damage to some of the rest of the building,” Rahn said.

The century-old Gustine Pentecost Society purchased the building in the early 1940s and moved it from a field about a mile outside town to its present location. The original structure was built between 1935 and 1940, according to board member Lloyd Vierra, whose grandfather was one of the group’s founding leaders.

The hall is the site of two annual Portuguese festas, traditional religious festivals. One festa is hosted by the Pentecost Society, the other by Our Lady of Miracles Society, Nunes said. “The Our Lady of Miracles Society (festa) is one of the biggest in California,” he said.

The two societies and community members donated about $1.2 million in 2002 to renovate the two-story building, board members said.

“It’s a huge asset to the community. They use it for festas, large events, parties; it’s even a designated emergency center for the city,” Vierra said.

Kathryn Maffei grew up in Gustine. She has many fond childhood memories associated with the hall.

“I grew up with that hall, going to festas all my life,” she said. “Every Friday night after the games, they’d have dances with live bands. It was fabulous, one of my favorite things.”

There was no word Monday about when the rebuilding might start or how it might be funded.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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