Things We Lost in the Fire
In the 90s and into the 2000s, Lissa Sims wrote one of Ace’s most popular weekly columns ever, On the Block. Sims was Ace’s Advertising Director for many years, and On the Block was nominally a real estate column, in that it lived in the real estate section, and featured a Lexington property that was ‘on the block,’ but it was always so much more. One column told the story of a Goodrich Avenue house that came with a free kayak. It began, “In advertising parlance, it is known as ‘Value Added.’ It is that little something that comes ‘free with purchase’ which pushes us one step closer to making the decision to buy. It works.” As she put it in one 2001 column, “My writing intends to be one half confessional and one half setting the record straight; think Anne Sexton meets Marianne Willman. Plus, I like the stories about the lives and thoughts of other people so I’m just adding to the pot with mine.”
In 2019, Lissa returned to Ace for a covergirl interview with Kristina Rosen highlighting Yoga Month.
Born and raised in Lexington, which she calls “the greatest place in the entire world to live,” she grew up just around the corner from the Henry Clay Estate, where she leads a wildly popular outdoor yoga practice on the lawn.
Earlier this Spring, she and Stephanie Poole were busy renovating a Gratz Park-adjacent historic building at West Second and Upper which would be home to their yoga space, Shala. They were down to the finishing touches and ready to move in when the building was gutted in a massive two-alarm fire. The building was also home to The Lexington Writer’s Room, which has since relocated to the former Common Grounds space on High.
Sims wrote an essay to friends and Shala members, sharing the experience, alongside a photo from the ruins. It follows below.
Thank You for Asking
If you were wondering about the fire…
By Lissa Sims, April 2022
Stephanie Poole and I have been renovating a beautiful historic building on Second Street for our permanent yoga home. It was ready for us to move in. Early last Wednesday morning I got a call that the building was on fire.
I arrived around 4 a.m. to find a dozen fire engines engaged in fighting the biggest fire I have ever seen, on our roof. It burned all night and into the next day, now there is little left of the second floor. The first floor, which was home to our good friends, the non-profit Writers’ Room, did not burn, but is so waterlogged that pretty much everything was destroyed. My husband was supposed to move his office into the annex this week. He can’t even see his space because the entrance and stairs are gutted.
The fire inspector tells us that the fire started in the house next door from a faulty wiring in a furnace that had been there for a few years. It spread to our building and the 60 mph winds that night made it impossible for the firefighters to put out.
We are lamenting our hard work that no one saw. I am mourning that I had not done a single yoga practice in the space we worked so hard to create. (The day after, when we were allowed into the building I made the firefighters turn away and I almost cried when I tried to explain that I had never practiced yoga in the Shala room and that I just wanted to do one pose. I told Stephanie, “don’t look, and don’t take a picture,” but then I changed my mind because I wanted to document my one pose so you would know I did it.) I’m so sad we never got to practice together there.
But we are also grateful.
We are grateful to the firefighters who worked so hard and were so kind. We formed a sort of friendship through that long night. I saw one of them on the street a day ago, he called out to me by name and chatted for a long moment.
We are grateful to the Writer’s Room for being gracious and kind.
We are grateful to all our neighbors, who called 911 and us, gave us water and let us use their bathrooms.
We are grateful to our families and friends who have stepped up to help us, to support us and be tender with us.
We are grateful to the people who have called, texted, brought us flowers, cakes, cookies and wine. They help.
It reminds us that we are a community. Which is the point of all of this: we are a community. We are reminded that we need each other and of the all-important things people do for each other. That is a reminder of what is important in this life. And it’s not a building.
We don’t know what is going to happen next. There is loads of insurance hoop-jumping and estimates and bids and all of that hard work. Stephanie and I hope we will be able to repair, but there is a good chance it will look more like rebuild.
Whatever happens, know we are a little sad but mostly grateful, so thank you. Thank you for being our community. Thank you for showing love to the people around you.
21 Years Ago in Ace
BY LISSA SIMS, Ace Archive, October 11, 2001
Every self-help book touts a key to happiness. I say the key to happiness is flexibility, particularly when it comes to buying houses. It’s not as if I’m the first to say, “when one door closes, another opens.”
When I was pregnant with our second child, my husband and I scoured the neighborhoods we liked for months searching for the perfect house. We finally found an older house on a lovely tree-lined street where a median slowed traffic and provided a lovely park-like view from the front porch. It seemed perfect for our growing family with three bedrooms and a bath on the second floor and plenty of room to build a large kitchen addition.
We made an offer, which the owner verbally accepted with the line, “I am so happy you are buying the house, I really wanted a family here. Someone else made an offer but I want to sell it to you because I am afraid she will just jeeter it up.” She agreed to sign the contract and return it to us.
We hired an architect to design an addition and applied for a loan (sure, it seems obvious NOW that after a week of putting us off we were being a bit optimistic about her commitment, but she kept assuring us that she would get the contract to us, “don’t worry”). The bank wouldn’t move forward without a signed contract (again, obviously) so we pressured her. Actually, I ambushed her at her workplace. She confessed that she had sold the house to the “jeeter it up” competition for $2000 more than we had offered.
We were heartbroken. We wept. (Well, I did.) Later we found out that the main joist of the house was not attached at either end and the upstairs supports were for some reason not tied into the exterior walls which were in danger of collapsing. In fact, one person who worked on the house said he couldn’t believe it was still standing. The people who bought the house from the jeeters have spent two years working on the house and have evidently spent about $150,000 on repairs.
Meanwhile, less than a month after our deal fell apart we found a much nicer house, which cost less and needed much less work. We were able to move in before the baby was born, which we certainly would not have been able to do if we had bought that OTHER house.
It took a while, but eventually we decided to be grateful that an angel disguised as a greedy bitch shut the door on that particular house.
Now it may be more important than ever to be flexible about real estate. Last week one realtor told me that he advised his clients to take their houses off the market until February. This may not tell the whole story, but it does appear that, for the short term anyway, there may be fewer houses on the market.
Fear of committing in a time of economic uncertainty or a desire for something different without the conviction for the commitment of a mortgage makes renting a tempting option. Particularly when given the option to rent an awarding-winning house that was featured on HGTV and will most likely not be offered for sale anytime soon, if ever.
Chesney Turner moved into town from the house which sits on twenty acres near Sadieville in Scott County when her teenage son and daughter, who are “very social,” no longer liked living so far from the things they like to do. She loves the house so she doesn’t want to sell it but wants someone to use it and take care of it until she moves back or converts it to a retreat.
The house, designed by Scott Guyon, won the Award of Design Excellence from the American Institute of Architects/Kentucky Society in 1998 and was featured on HGTV’s Homes Across America.
Guyon describes the house as a “structure reminiscent of the ‘dogtrot’ house that can be found throughout Kentucky and neighboring states. The house is made up of two separate sections under one roof with a five-foot wide dogtrot opening between them.”
One section holds only one room; stained concrete floors and cedar siding warm the 20 X 30 foot room. Birch cabinets and kitchen appliances line the back wall while the opposite wall provides warmth in the form of a fieldstone fireplace. Windows offer views of the woods that lead to a Native American burial ground just beyond the boundary of the property.
For a would-be homebuyer who either isn’t finding what he desires, or wants to get his feet wet without committing to jumping all the way in, renting this house could be the opening of a door. For anyone who might like to live in the country or in a contemporary award-winning architect-designed home, this stunning house, with its rural setting, offers the ultimate opportunity to try on a lifestyle.
This article also appears on page 8 and 9 of the May 2022 print issue of Ace, Lexington KY’s original citywide magazine, founded in 1989 — on stands and in mailboxes throughout central Kentucky.
Ace is celebrating 33 years in 2022 and will be sharing archives celebrating three decades of Lexington history in every print edition throughout the year.