Fire destroyed an old nightclub Saturday morning — which once hosted Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner and Fats Domino — and heavily damaged a home next to it.
Before 8 a.m. the New Iberia Fire Department received the dispatch and arrived to find the old Leo’s Rendezvous building engulfed in flames. The vacant night club building sits at 401 W. Pershing St.
“There was fire coming through the roof and out the windows,” said assistant fire chief Mark Dore.
The blaze jumped to the house 3 feet behind it. The attic caught on fire and a man inside the house had to be rushed out by Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies.
A neighbor who lives near the old building said she was awakened by fire sirens and could smell the smoke in her home. She saw the flames leap as high as the trees behind the building — about 30 feet.
“It was just completely on fire,” said Terry Patterson, 32. “You could feel the heat from our house.”
It was a frightening experience for her.
“It was just ablaze with the black smoke. It just filled the air. It was just everywhere. It was bad,” Patterson said.
The fire started inside the building on its south wall, which was closest to the nearby house, Dore said. Four engines and a ladder truck responded to the call, he said.
“(The destruction) is pretty substantial because it’s a large building, and it had a lot of heavy timber,” Dore said.
The second building also was severely damage from the heat and smoke. Dore thought it would be razed.
“It would probably make more sense than trying to salvage it,” Dore said.
Dore would not speculate on the fire’s cause. He did say the building’s electricity and gas were turned off. He noted the cold weather sometimes motivates vagrants to take refuge in abandoned buildings. And they build fires to keep themselves warm. Saturday morning’s temperature was in the low 30s.
“Right now it’s in the investigation process,” Dore said.
By 3 p.m. the building was a pile of rubble. The brick walls were being knocked down so firefighters could hose off hot spots to ensure it wouldn’t reignite.
Doreathea Meyers Viltz, the building’s owner, said she was surprised by the blaze. She had no idea how the fire started. By noon, the fire chief stopped by to talk to her about the building.
“It’s just tragic that it would happen. I have no idea (what caused it),” Viltz said. “It’s one of those unfortunate things.”
She didn’t have a list in hand, but said a large number of famous entertainers frequented the old club. She didn’t know the building’s age either, but said its who’s who list dated back to Ray Charles.
Her family acquired the building in the early ’80s. The night club was shut down in the early ’90s, she said.
“It’s been closed but boarded up,” she said.
The chief told her there was evidence that unauthorized persons were entering and leaving the building. Neighbors corroborated that information, Viltz said.
“There’s nothing to burglarize or a darn thing of interest in there,” Viltz said. “(But) they must have thought something was in there.”