STOCKTON (CBS13) – A beloved business along Stockton’s Miracle Mile is now gone. An early morning fire Friday destroyed a historic movie theater that has been around for generations.

Flames devoured the iconic piece of Stockton history.

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“Seeing something like this gone, hurts,” said Stockton resident Giovani Tilley.

The five-alarm blaze broke out inside the Empire Theater – a well-known movie house that’s been on Stockton’s Miracle Mile business district since the 1940s.

Anthony Mignone – Witnessed fire

“This was like the jewel of the mile,” said Anthony Mignone, who witnessed the fire. “Everybody loved this building and knows what it was.”

“It’s something that’s been there my whole life,” said Al Greco.

Al Greco has owned the comic book store next door for 40 years.

“The theater was a great thing to have here because it brought a lot of business to the avenue,” he said.

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Most recently, the theater had been used as a coffee house and performing arts space.

“Everything from concerts to magic shows to quinceaneras,” said former employee Kari McNickle

But four years ago, the building was forced to shut down by the City of Stockton over code enforcement concerns – and that dispute is currently in litigation.

Since then, there have been several other suspicious fires – but this one may be the theater’s final curtain call.

“It’s like you’re looking in there for some fragment of what it was,” McNickle said. “There was beautiful murals and frescos inside of the theater. You can’t even see that now through the rubble.”

It’s a huge loss for those who now only have memories of the movie theater’s treasured past.

“It makes me feel sad only because other generations and kids won’t be able to experience what I felt growing up and this movie theater,” said Stockton resident Arion Grim.

“Hopefully something will happen, something will replace it, but it’s not going to be the same,” Tilley said.

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Firefighters say it took about four hours to get the blaze under control, and they had to knock down the rear wall because it was in danger of falling on nearby homes. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.