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Saving History: Prentiss Club donated to Historic Natchez Foundation

 

NATCHEZ — The future of the Prentiss Club is now in the hands of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

Nearly three months after a fire severely damaged the historic building at Jefferson and Pearl streets, the owners of the building have donated the building to the Foundation.

“The amount of damage (from the fire) exceeded all expectations,” owner Fred Kent said.

Kent said after reviewing initial construction estimates to repair the building, he and his wife Melinda decided the future of the building was best in the hands of the Foundation.

HNF Executive Director Carter Burns said the Foundation board recently voted this week to accept the building from the Kents.

Along with the property, the Kents are also giving the Foundation $47,000 and making a loan of $250,000 to the Foundation to fund the work necessary to restore the exterior of the building, Burns said.

“We are going to rebuild the roof, restore the exterior and then hold (the building) for redevelopment,” Burns said.

Work on the building, Burns said, will begin next week.

“Our biggest concern is getting a roof on (the building) before any more winter weather comes through,” Burns said.

Vidalia contractor Wilmar Construction will be doing the work, Burns said.

Burns toured the remains of the building with Historic Natchez Foundation board members Thursday to give them an opportunity to review the condition of the structure for the first time since the fire.

On Sept. 2, Natchez firefighters responded to a fire in the building, which was built between 1904 and 1905 as a private men’s club.

The fire, which is suspected to have started in the basement of the building before 7 a.m., quickly moved to the second floor and burned most of the roof before firefighters could get the blaze under control by 9 a.m.

The building suffered extensive water and smoke damage from the fire.

“Structurally the building is still sound,” Burns said. “It just needs a roof and the areas that were burned need to be reconstructed.”

HNF board member Pat Biglane, who remembers attending Boy Scout meetings in the building’s basement before the space was turned into The Cellar nightclub, said acquiring the building was the right thing to do.

“We were afraid (the building) was going to end up being demolished. The previous owners were nice enough to make a deal to save it,” Biglane said. “We are saving a piece of Natchez history.”

Burns said the Foundation has been working with the Kents since the fire occurred to make sure the building is preserved.

“It is a very important building, not just architecturally,” Burns said. “It occupies a very prominent corner in Natchez and it would be a devastating blow to lose it.”

Burns said he wanted to commend the Foundation board members for voting to acquire the property.

“I am really grateful to them that they are willing to take this on,” Burns said.

Fred Kent said that although he and his wife no longer own the Prentiss Club, the couple is looking at the possibility of acquiring another property in Natchez to help “bring alive downtown.”

Even as they look at new properties, Kent said he knows that giving the building to the Foundation was the right thing to do.

“With the donation of the building along with our monetary donation, we hope to see new life come back to the Prentiss Club.”