Tag Archives: Fire

The Restaurant Fire That Ended The Life Of Tom Stacks: The Most Unique Voice In Jazz -1936

The Tragic End of Tom Stacks, Star Crooner of The 1920’s

Tom StacksOnce you have heard Tom Stacks sing you would recognize his voice anywhere.

Tom Stacks was a tenor and a drummer appearing on hundreds of recordings in the 1920s and 1930s, primarily as a singer with Harry Reser’s band.

Stacks was a small man with an adolescent voice that sounded like he was singing with a perpetual smile.

Best demonstrating Stacks unique ability to turn a song into his own, is his rendition of a tune written by Richard Whiting and Byron Gay, Horses. If there was ever a novelty song with witty lyrics that epitomized the roaring twenties, this is it. (see lyrics at end of article)

Another song, Masculine Women and Feminine Men, a song written by Edgar Leslie and James V. Monaco seems more apropos for today rather than 1926. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #44

Western Union Telegraph Building 1880

Broadway looking south Western Union Building 1880This view looking south on Broadway was taken from the Old Post Office in 1880 and shows a deserted stretch of the usually traffic clogged thoroughfare.

The building partially seen on the right side is the Astor House Hotel. Adjacent to the Astor with the columns is St. Paul’s Chapel. The tall structure further down Broadway is Trinity Church with its spire rising 281 feet. This was the highest point in New York until the World Building was built in 1890.

The main building dominating the photo at the corner of Broadway and Dey Street is the Western Union Telegraph Building designed by architect George B. Post. At 230 feet, it was one of the tallest commercial buildings in the city when it was built from 1872-1875. To put this tremendous height in perspective, this was four times the height of the average New York building. On top of the building’s flagstaff a time ball was perched which would drop precisely at noon, so everyone in the surrounding financial area could set their watch to the correct time.

The telegraph was still the predominant way to get a message to someone quickly. To send a telegram with the body message being ten words or less from New York to Baltimore or Boston cost 25¢; to Chicago 40¢ and to San Francisco $1.00.

Western Union Building Fire - New York Evening World

Western Union Building Fire – New York Evening World

A Fire Destroys The Building

As the night shift of telegraph operators and workers was letting out at 6:55 a.m. on Friday, July 18, 1890 the Western Union Building caught fire.

The fire broke out on the 6th floor and quickly spread to the upper floors. Firefighters arrived within six minutes of the first alarm being turned in.

The fire was far above the roof lines of the adjacent buildings and the water pressure from street level could not possibly come close to the fire. The firemen strung several hoses together and carried them up  into nearby buildings on to the roofs to fight the flames.

20,000 people watched from the surrounding streets as the firemen placed ladders from the adjacent building at 8 Dey Street to rescue people trapped in the Western Union Building and pour water on to the upper floors. Continue reading

115 Years After New York’s Deadliest Hotel Fire, A Memorial Goes Up For The Unidentified Dead

The Windsor Hotel Fire On St. Patrick’s Day In 1899 Killed 86

Windsor Hotel Fire Memorial  by artist Al Lonrenz photo: Ricky Flores for The Journal News

Windsor Hotel Fire Memorial by artist Al Lonrenz photo: Ricky Flores for The Journal News

It only took 115 years, but finally 31 unidentified dead, who were killed in New York City’s deadliest hotel fire, will be receiving a stone which commemorates their final resting place.

On Thursday, October 9 at 4:00 p.m., a memorial service was held at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y. to officially unveil and dedicate a monument to those who were interred without a marker.

The Windsor Hotel built between 1872 and 1873, stood at 575 Fifth Avenue, between 46th and 47tth Streets and was considered one of New York’s finest hotels.

At a few minutes after 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 17, 1899 with thousands of spectators along Fifth Avenue watching the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a fire broke out at The Windsor Hotel and spread like lightning throughout the entire structure.

Windsor Hotel 5th ave 46th 47th street magic lantern slide B.P collection

The Windsor Hotel

On the 46th Street side of the hotel, John Foy, a waiter at the hotel was passing the parlor located on the second floor. Foy watched a guest light a cigar Continue reading

The 1904 General Slocum Disaster Had Survivors That Lived Into The 21st Century

Catherine Connelly & Adella Wotherspoon, General Slocum Survivors, Lived To Ages 109 & 100

The Story of The General Slocum Steamship Disaster

General Slocum Disaster

June 15, 2014 marks the 110th anniversary of what had been New York’s biggest disaster and loss of life until the September 11 attacks occurred. We think it is worth remembering the ill-fated General Slocum steamship fire. Here is the story of the General Slocum and  a brief summary of the lives of the last two survivors of the disaster who amazingly lived into the 21st century.

A Beautiful Day For A Picnic

“Kleindeutchland,” as the area of Little Germany was called on the lower east side, was bounded approximately by the East River and Third Avenue and stretched from Houston Street to about 23rd Street. It was a working class, close-knit community of laborers and business owners. The German families that lived in this neighborhood made Tompkins Square Park their center for congregating and relaxation. But for special occasions they would embark on a trip to get out of the city.

Wednesday, June 15, 1904 was a sunny day and the members of the Sunday School of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at 323 E. 6th Street were looking forward to a day filled with games, music and a large picnic for their 17th annual excursion to bucolic Locust Grove, Long Island.

To get there, the church had chartered a steamship built in 1891, the three decked white paddle-wheeler, General Slocum.

Sudden Disaster

New York Tribune June 16, 1904 (click to enlarge)

New York Tribune June 16, 1904 (click to enlarge)

The General Slocum was filled with around 1,400 passengers, mostly women and children as the men generally had to work on a weekday. The Slocum headed out from its berth at 3rd Street on the East River at about 9:30 am with a band playing and the passengers joyously celebrating the smooth ride and beautiful weather.

Thirty minutes after setting out, the ship caught fire Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #8 – Dreamland Coney Island Part 2

Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park 1904-1911 – Part 2

Coney Island Dreamland general view

Coney Island- Dreamland midway on a crowded day

Continuing from part one of our postcard journey through Dreamland Amusement Park at Coney Island, we examine the other features of the park.

Coney Island Dreamland The Ballroom InteriorConey Island Dreamland Bathing Beach

At the turn of the century, dancing was possibly the most popular amusement at Coney Island, even more so than bathing at the beach. The Dreamland ballroom reflected this popularity by being the largest ballroom ever built in the United States. Continue reading

The Strange Origin Of Modern Building Fire Laws In Britain

Why Every Employee Must Be Able To Reach A Fire Exit In Under Two And A Half Minutes

Empire Theatre Fire photo Edinburgh Libraries and Museums and Galleries

Empire Theatre Fire photo Edinburgh Libraries and Museums and Galleries

The Telegraph just featured an interesting interview with Professor of Fire and Structures at Edinburgh University, Luke Bisby.

Professor Bisby does something I also do as well, which is when I enter a building I have never visited, I check how to get out of the building and where the fire exits are. Of course he looks at other factors that the average person wouldn’t take into account such as what is hanging on the walls and what the carpeting is made of.

Among the topics discussed was: why there are such tough safety rules in place in case of a fire in office worker’s buildings in the U.K.. The answer he provides is fascinating:

It may not be a surprise to learn that there are tight regulations surrounding the positioning and width of fire exits, and their location relative to workers’ desks, in a modern office.

But the basis for the stringent rules, which state that every employee must be able to reach a fire exit within two-and-a-half minutes, and that fire doors must be wide enough for all employees to pass through within the same time frame, is scarcely to be believed.

“This two-and-a-half minutes is the fundamental basis on which the built environment can exist,” Prof Bisby said. “You would presume there must be a good reason for it.

“The reason is that two-and-a-half minutes is, I’m told, the mean length of God Save the Queen. The British national anthem, when played in full, by a concert orchestra.”

The stipulation can be traced back to a fire at Edinburgh’s Empire Palace Theatre in 1911 which broke out during a performance by a French illusionist named The Great Lafayette, he explained. Continue reading

January 9, 1912 The Equitable Fire

The Equitable Assurance Building Is Destroyed By Fire 100 Years Ago Today

Equitable Building Jan. 10, 1912 - View From The Singer Building © Library of Congress

David Dunlap’s excellent story in The New York Times about the Equitable Assurance Building fire is merely a reminder about how great disasters are eventually forgotten over time. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 took 146 lives and was remembered in various ceremonies on its 100th anniversary.

No such commemorations will be held this year for the Equitable fire which killed six people, including Battalion Chief William Walsh.

The fire took place on a brutally cold day and the water froze quickly and left macabre ruins resembling an ice palace.

Many of the photographs from The Times story were taken from a commemorative booklet entitled The Equitable Building Destroyed By Fire January 9, 1912 that was issued within weeks after the fire.  I own a copy of this twenty page booklet and reading it you get a full sense of what a difficult blaze this was to battle.

A direct consequence of this fire was that the new Equitable Building which was built in its place, resulted in zoning law reformation in New York City. On just under an acre of land, Equitable built from 1913-1915, a 41 story skyscraper building with 1.2 million square feet of floor /office area with no setbacks. The public outrage to this exploitation of land use lead in 1916 to New York City instituting a comprehensive zoning resolution which made sure that light would reach the streets and buildings of this size could not be built without setbacks.

It seems today that builders build monstrously tall glass monoliths right on top of one another creating a pattern of lookalike structures with no distinct identity. I’ll take the Equitable building over these dull glass behemoths anytime.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

The Triangle Fire – One Hundred Years Later

Anniversaries of older, tragic events are usually the only time those events play into the public consciousness. Other than that, they are rarely thought about, discussed or even remembered.

This week a vast amount of attention has been devoted by newspapers, PBS, HBO and news stations in New York that are marking the 100th anniversary of The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 people, mostly young immigrant girls, perished.

The details of the March 25th, 1911 conflagration which are summed up best by Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School web site are heartbreaking. Many of these girls Continue reading

North Brother Island

A Close-up Look At Hidden New York: No People, But Lots Of Abandoned Buildings, Neglected Structures And A Safe Haven To Birds.

Having lived in New York City my whole life, there are places that I have never visited by choice and others that I have never been to because they are off-limits.  One of those off-limits places is North Brother Island, which is a small island just off the southern coast of the Bronx near the entrance to Long Island sound.

North Brother Island, if known by the general public at all, is famous for two reasons:

1-   In 1904 the excursion boat General Slocum caught fire and was beached near the island. The fire took the lives of over 1,000 people, mostly women and children going on a church outing to Long Island. Heroic rescuers who worked on North Brother brought many of the victims to the shores of the island.

2-   Mary Mallon a.k.a. Typhoid Mary who was a carrier of typhoid and spread disease and death in turn of the century New York. She was quarantined there until she died in 1938.

I am fascinated by abandoned structures. North Brother Island is chock full of history. Presented here is the link to the fabulous web site The Kingston Lounge which has done a phenomenal history and photo essay of the decaying remains on this forgotten section of New York City.

The 19.3 acre island is now controlled by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and since its human abandonment in the 1970’s has become a bird sanctuary.