New York, NY Equitable Building Fire, Jan 1912
$18,000,000 EQUITABLE BUILDING DESTROYED BY FATAL FIRE
Fast Sweeping Blaze in New York's Financial Zone Razes City's First Skyscraper Causing Loss of Life.
ONE BILLION DOLLARS IN SECURITIES BURIED
Chief Kenlon Says Huge Steel Boxes Are Intact and Contents Doubtless Unharmed - Building Cost About $9,000,000, but Equitable Considered it Valueless and Fixes Loss at $300,000 - Tenants, Whose Books Are Destroyed, Hunt New Offices - Thrilling Scenes at Worst Fire in Financial District
New York. -- The Equitable Life Assurance Society's block-square building at No. 120 Broadway was destroyed by a fire that caused the death of at least six persons, tied up the business of the Stock Exchange and several banking houses and gave the Fire Department of the city the most strenuous task of the last half century.
Fire Chief KENLON declared, after a late inspection, that the huge vaults of the Equitable and those of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company are intact and that their contents, estimated at fully $1,500,000,000 in stocks, bonds, negotiable securities and cash, jewels and valuable articles, are secure from any damage.
Those who met death in the fire were:
FIRE BATTALION CHIEF WILLIAM WALSH, forty-five years old, veteran hero of many fires.
WILLIAM CAMPION, a watchman, employed by the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company.
FRANK J. NIEDER, also employed by the Mercantile.
JOHN SAZZI, a kitchen helper in the Cafe Savarin.
JOHN CONTI, also employed in the Cafe Savarin.
MESSINA FRATTI, employed in the building.
The origin of the fire was investigated by Fire Marshall PRIAL, but not definitely ascertained beyond the fact that the flames were first seen in the rear of the Cafe Savarin, where several bakers were at work. The elevator shafts acted as chimneys, conveying the fire directly to the roof, the flames mushrooming on several floors so that in less than half an hour from the time the first alarm was turned in at 5:34 A. M., the interior of the entire building was in flames.
The value of the property destroyed, from the point of view of cost, was at least $10,000,000, but owing to the fact that the building itself, which cost between $8,000,000 and $9,000,000 to construct, has not been carried as an asset on the books of the Equitable Society for the last three years the estimate of loss to property is reduced to between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000. The land occupied by the Equitable Building, in the view of experts, will be intrinsically more valuable without the massive old-fashioned structure. A huge skyscraper will undoubtedly take the place of the building which has been destroyed.
Chief WALSH died carried down by a collapsing floor as he was leading his men upward toward the Lawyers' Club rooms.
In their struggle to obtain mastery of the flames the firemen were handicapped by the bitterly cold weather, the heavy gale that prevailed and low water pressure.
Every available piece of fire apparatus in the city was brought to the scene of the fire, in response to the "borough alarm," the call which always indicates a catastrophe. Every fire company in Manhattan, below Fifty-ninth street was rushed downtown, the companies above them being moved down to take their places, while practically all the available apparatus in Brooklyn was summoned and raced, across the Brooklyn Bridge, the north roadway of which was closed to all other traffic. It was the most serious fire in a financial way, New York had ever known.
The most thrilling incident of the early stages of the fire was the killing of three men who had fled to the roof to escape the fire that was burning fiercely beneath them. They were seen on a cupola on the Cedar street side of the building just when dawn was breaking. Firemen in the street yelled to them not to jump, and hurried away for scaling ladders. When they returned the men still were there, holding out their arms appealingly to those in the street below. The firemen started up the Cedar street side of the building on scaling ladders, and were nearing the men when gushes of flames burst from the windows and forced them to retreat. Almost simultaneously the section of the roof back of the three men collapsed and went down into the building. The flames then gushed up from the furnace a block in size. The heat was so terrific the three men could not stand it. They knelt on the coping, prayed for a few seconds, and two of them leaped outward. They landed on the pavement in Cedar street and death was instant. The third man stood up on the coping, staggered, fell backward and plunged head-long into the volcano that raged beneath him in the interior of the building.
Continued on page 2