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Historic Marfa Building Badly Damaged in Overnight Fire

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio

A historic building in downtown Marfa that once housed a popular local barber shop and was used as an architecture office by the late minimalist artist Donald Judd was badly damaged in a fire early Friday morning.

“The interior of the building was severely damaged,” the Judd Foundation, the non-profit that owns the building, said in a post on social media.

No one was hurt in the fire, the organization said, and the building, which typically houses artifacts of Judd’s architecture work, was empty except for construction equipment because of an ongoing restoration project.

According to Marfa police, the fire broke out just after midnight in the early hours of Friday morning. It’s not yet clear what caused the fire.

“When my officers arrived, they saw the whole Highland [Street] was just engulfed in really dark and dense smoke,” Marfa Police Chief Estevan Marquez said.

Marfa police shared photos showing the building along Marfa’s historic Highland Avenue engulfed in flames with smoke billowing from most of its windows.

The building’s second floor collapsed in the fire, Marquez told Marfa Public Radio. Volunteer firefighters from Marfa and Jeff Davis County responded to the fire, he said.

The chief said a store connected to the Judd Foundation building, the Wrong Store, managed to avoid damage from the fire itself.

“There was a small amount of water that was inside the Wrong building,” he said. “The fire department did a great job on containing it to just this building.”

A neighboring property behind the burned-out building also only saw some water damage from the firefighting effort.

The fire is a setback for the Judd Foundation’s sweeping restoration plan for multiple historic buildings that Donald Judd purchased after moving to Marfa in the 1970s.

Friday’s fire came as workers were nearing the end of the project’s first phase, a reportedly $2 million effort launched in 2018 to restore the architecture office building and open it to the public for the first time. That work was originally set to be completed this November.

A spokesperson for the Judd Foundation said the organization did have insurance on the building.

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
Firefighters battle a building fire in Marfa, Texas on June 4, 2021.

Rainer Judd, the foundation’s president and Donald Judd’s daughter, noted that part of the work to restore the building’s brick exterior was completed in the fall of 2019.

“So I think that made a really big difference,” she said. “That was the first phase of the construction, to just deal with the exterior, and the second phase of the project was to work on the interior, which we were in the final stages of.”

“We’re incredibly grateful that there was no one in the building and that there was no loss of life, as well as no loss of art,” Judd said. She also praised the quick response of local firefighters.

Donald Judd wasn’t the only one to work out of the red brick building in the heart of Marfa. Longtime local barber Mateo Quintana’s shop was located on the building’s first floor until his retirement in 2019.

In a profile that year, the Big Bend Sentinel talked to Quintana about the changes to Marfa he witnessed through the years.

“I like the way they’re fixing it up. I like all the restaurants, the hotels; I like it," Quintana told the newspaper.

Marquez, the police chief, said local authorities would be requesting the help of the state fire marshal to help investigate the fire.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.