Fire destroys Camaraderie

Matthew Resenhoeft

With the beginning of a new year came the end of a piece of history for Eau Claire residents as they watched the Camaraderie go up in flames.

Smoke was seen coming from the Camaraderie, 442 Water St., at 10:35 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 7 by off-duty Police Detective Travis Quella. Quella went to a pay phone and dialed 911 while Fred and Cheryl Hefling warned the tenants living upstairs that the building was on fire, said Fire Inspector Jim Onarheim.

Firefighters were notified of the fire at 10:37 a.m. and arrived at the Camaraderie at 10:41 a.m. Firefighters fought to put out the blaze all afternoon.

Three of the people who lived in the apartments above the Camaraderie were home during the fire but escaped the building unharmed. The bar was a total loss, and damages are more than $1 million, said Mark Mouledoux, who owns the Camaraderie with his wife, Sandra.

Fire investigators determined the blaze started in the area by the men’s restroom in the back bar area under the balcony.

A fire alarm system with heat detectors monitored by an alarm company recently had been installed in the Camaraderie, but it was logged off while final adjustments were being made, said Onarheim.

The exact cause of the fire is not known. The fire may have been started by a problem with an exhaust fan or by an old neon beverage sign, Onarheim said.

The front section was all that was left of the Camaraderie. A few pieces of d‚cor were salvaged from the fire, but the fire destroyed most of them.

“It was a devastating loss,” said Mouledoux, who bought the Camaraderie from his wife’s parents, Mary Lee and Pearly Johnson.

Mouledoux said they plan to rebuild if possible, but added they have a lot of obstacles to overcome. There are code and financial issues that need to be dealt with before they can start rebuilding, Mouledoux said.

If they rebuild, they want to make the new building similar to the old. “We are going to do our best to keep the philosophy of the old with the new,” he said.

Mouledoux said there is no way to create an exact replica with the loss of such irreplaceable things, but he added there will be definite similarities.

“When people walk in, they’ll know they’re in the Camaraderie,” Mouledoux said.

The name Camaraderie was chosen by Mary Lee Johnson because Pearly Johnson said it was what they wanted the bar to stand for.

“We wanted it to be a place for people to talk, get together, have friendships and good times,” Pearly Johnson said. “And it was.”

Many of the furnishings in the bar came from old buildings in the Eau Claire area, Pearly Johnson said. The chandeliers in the bar and restaurant were taken from the old Lake Street Methodist Church. Some of the counters were taken from old bars around Eau Claire and the bar displayed many pictures signed by political visitors to Eau Claire, such as former president Jimmy Carter.

“The Cam was an extension of Eau Claire,” Pearly Johnson said.