Arrest, charges made in historic hotel arson

Firefighters battle flames in the Smarty Pants Consignment Shop next door to the Hotel Talisi.
Firefighters battle flames in the Smarty Pants Consignment Shop next door to the Hotel Talisi.

Posted by: John Shryock - bio | email
Posted by: Sherri Burnett-James - bio | email

TALLASSEE, AL (WSFA) - A piece of Alabama history went up on flames Monday and there was little anyone could do to stop the destruction. An estimated 150-200 firefighters from every surrounding community battled an early morning blaze at the historic Hotel Talisi and another historic structure next door that housed Smarty Pants Consignment Shop. Both buildings are total losses.

Investigators have filed numerous charges against a 17-year-old boy who's been taken into custody. The juvenile was transfered to the Montgomery County Youth Facility and authorities are working with the Elmore County District Attorney to move the case to Adult Court.

Tallassee Mayor George McCain says the boy, unnamed, confessed in writing to torching the buildings. Charges against the youth included: 2 counts arson second degree; 1 count burglary third degree; 1 count of theft 1st degree and criminal mischief.

The boy apparently broke out a window to Smarty Pants Consignment Shop, stole merchandise and then set fire to the building.

McCain said he couldn't understand why someone would destroy such a historic site. "You can never understand an arsonist anyway..." he said. Earlier in the day McCain said "I would like to throw my arms around the residents of Tallassee and say I'm sorry..." He believes that citizens will get through the unfortunate event by coming together and supporting one another.

The owner of the Hotel Talisi, her husband and their sons had to jump from the burning building. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the fire, which took six hours to bring under control.


One of the best known buildings in Elmore County the historic Hotel Talisi was experiencing a rebirth of sorts. It was just three weeks ago that its owners reopened after a major renovation.

Construction of Hotel Talisi, spelled T-A-L-I-S-I as Native Americans preferred, started in 1924 and finished in 1928. It survived the stock market collapse of 1929, the Great Depression, World War II and social unrest of the 50's and 60's. It was known just as much for its restaurant as it was for it hotel rooms.

"It's like a bad dream," explained co-owner Patricia Elliot as she stood outside the charred brick building. Another co-owner said her heart said "Yes" to re-opening at some point, but the partners would have to talk about it.

If Dr. Jack Solomon has anything to do with it, the hotel will be back. "I'm encouraging the ladies, right now, to pick up the pieces, wherever they are and proceed. Solomon was just starting to write a history of the hotel when the fire swept through it. "It just must not be the end," he demanded.


The fire is believed to have started not at Hotel Talisi, but in a building it butted-up against on Anne Street. Smarty Pants Consignment Shop owner Megan Marie Speake said she received the phone call of the fire around 4:00 a.m.

Speake had just moved into the area in October and spent many nights in the shop with her four children preparing for the grand opening. "I'm devastated," she said while holding back tears.

She felt a lot better off thinking it was an electrical problem that burned up her dreams than believing, "A child took my dream from me, took everything I've worked hard for."

Speak said she thinks of her own children, whose Christmas presents were destroyed in the loft, and the suspect "having such disregard for someone else's property. I'm sure he didn't have a clue what this store meant to me." The suspect's actions could've burned down the whole downtown, she added.

Officials were bringing in excavating equipment at last check to bring down walls to the building. The damage made the walls bow, creating an unsafe environment for workers.

WSFA 12 News will continue to follow this developing story.

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