Homeless man charged with intentionally setting fire to historic Austin Club

36-year-old Matthew James Caldwell, transient according to Captain Reardon, was caught and arrested. He's charged with evading arrest, burglary of a building and arson. 

Richardson says Caldwell had set fire to a tapestry on the third floor and made off with some alcohol.

"Three bottles of wine.  The good thing is he didn't take the most expensive wine so we need to improve his knowledge of wines a little bit," Richardson said.

The Austin Club's building has a rich history.  It was built as the Millett Opera House in 1878,

"Edwin Booth performed here, John Phillip Sousa performed here, Buffalo Bill and his Military Band performed here, Jack Dempsey and John O'Sullivan boxed in this building," Richardson said. 

Obviously Monday's incident could have had a very different ending.  And thankfully no one was hurt.  

As Fox 7 has reported many times over the last few years, downtown business owners and tourists alike are struggling with Austin's homeless issue.

"Just the safety of people at night being attacked.  We make sure that our guests are escorted to the garage outside just to make sure," Richardson said.

2 weeks ago, Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance spoke with the Public Safety Commission about tourists impressions of downtown after visiting and the failures of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

"Who would want homeless services in their community when in everyone's mind's-eye they see what lies outside the ARCH every single day?  Would anyone want that in their neighborhood, would you want that in yours?  I would much rather in my neighborhood have people who are homeless, housed," Brice said.

Earlier this year, Bobalu Cigar Company left Sixth Street because the area had just gotten too dangerous.

"Overdoses, gunshots, defecation in the alleys, crime, aggressive panhandling," said owner Jeff Lipton. 

"Mental issues, we see it everyday on the sidewalks.  It's just out of my realm of what should be done.  Something has to be done because it's having a drastic impact on downtown Austin," said Richardson on Monday.

The Austin Police Department sent Fox 7 some data of downtown arrests involving the homeless population. Possession of drug paraphernalia is one of the leading charges.  In 2016 there were 123 arrests, 554 in 2017 and 106 as of June 1 of this year.  Total of 783,

Burglary of a non-residence: 11 in 2016, 8 in 2017 and 4 as of June 1.  Total of 23.

Arson is less common.  Only 2 since 2016.  

And the grand total is 4,644 downtown homeless arrests since 2016.

The opera house actually served as a meeting place for the state legislature while the current State Capitol was being built.

The building is also a popular filming location.  The "True Grit" remake with Jeff Bridges was shot there.

Last year the Foundation for the Preservation of the Historic Millett Opera House acquired the property from Austin ISD so they'll be doing the repairs.  

They may take a while but the club is hoping to open up Tuesday.