The flames that burned down a longtime Boy Scout troop meeting place, judo club and former Japanese cultural community center in Arroyo Grande early Sunday left little for its users to salvage.
The Boy Scouts lost their camping equipment, a flag covered with 50 years’ worth of troop ribbons and dozens of confetti eggs used as the troops’ primary fundraiser. Greg Rubio, who runs the Five Cities Judo Club, estimates a loss of more than $10,000 worth of judo tatami mats.
And gone is a nearly 80-year-old wooden building that originally housed a Japanese community center for judo, Kendo (the art of Japanese swordsmanship), calligraphy, weddings, funerals and different cultural events, and even served as a hostel for a time for some Japanese families after World War II, Arroyo Grande resident Vard Ikeda said.
“It’s been such a big part of so many people’s lives,” said Chris Hagerty, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 413, which has met at the building since 1969. “It was a dusty, musty place that teenagers loved.”
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The building was owned and provided to the Scouts by the Japanese Cultural Society of the Five Cities, according to the Scouts’ website.
Arroyo Grande police are investigating the fire as arson. By the time police and the Five Cities Fire Authority arrived at 490 E. Cherry Ave. about 4:20 a.m., the blaze had destroyed the Scout Hall and a small shed.
A historic truck loaned to the Boy Scouts and parked next to one of the buildings was severely damaged, police said.
Investigators took physical evidence from the scene, which will likely be analyzed for accelerants, Arroyo Grande police Cmdr. John Hough said.
Investigators are still working to determine the cause and how many ignition points there may have been in the two buildings. A damage estimate was not available.
“We don’t know what will happen with the site,” Vard said, adding that at least a half dozen Japanese families, including his, will need to get together to determine what to do.
Police took an arson and vandalism report at the same location April 26. Rubio said some small fires were started inside the hall using matches and old rags, and one of the Scouts’ flags was destroyed and another taken. The floor was not damaged, he said.
Police do not have any suspects in that case, Hough said.