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New York, NY Vanderbilt Hotel Fire, Jan 1912

Vanderbilt Hotel 1912, photo from Vanderbilt Hotel 1920s, photo from


Blaze Starts in Expensive, Furniture on Third Floor and Damages the New Hostlery[sic].


Water Leaks Into the Chinese Room, Defacing the Walls and Injuring Rugs and Tapestries.

While several hundred patrons were sitting in the music room on the main floor or gathered in small groups at tables in the large dining room of the new Vanderbilt Hotel, at Park Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street, late yesterday afternoon, practically the entire staff of bellboys and porters were fighting a fire in the main corridor on the rear of the third floor.

None of the patrons knew of the fire, until Walton H. Marshall, manager of the hotel, who was directing the fire fighters, became convinced that no progress was being made and decided to turn in an alarm from the Park Avenue Hotel across the street, so as not to alarm his patrons. Not until the fire apparatus came clanging up on the Thirty-third Street side of the hotel did they suspect that there was anything wrong.

The fire was discovered about 4:15 o'clock by one of the bellboys, who managed to keep his head and ran to the office, where he informed Mr. Marshall that there was a lot of smoke on the third floor. The manager immediately sounded a call which assembled the entire staff of the hotel, with the exception of the dining room and kitchen employes[sic], on the third floor. There it was found that the furniture which was stored in the main corridor was burning briskly.

Started in Excelsior Packing.

The work of furnishing the various rooms and suites in the hotel has not yet been completed and the furniture intended for the third floor had been taken to the corridor, where workmen were unpacking it from the burlap and excelsior.

The hotel, which open to patrons last Thursday, at which time all of the rooms from the twenty-fifth floor down to the sixth were ready for occupancy. Since that time workmen have been busy unpacking and installing furniture on the lower floors until noon yesterday, when work for the week was stopped.

The third floor had been reached, and a part of the rich furniture in the corridor had been stripped of its covering. It is believed that some delinquent bellboy yearning for a smoke sought the safe recesses of the corridor on which none of the rooms is occupied. A carelessly dropped match or cigarette, it is believed, fell into a pile of excelsior and started the blaze.

After Mr. Marshall had turned in the first alarm from the Park Avenue Hotel, and returned to learn what progress the flames were making, he decided not to assume any further risk, and turned in a second alarm from his own hotel. To the second alarm Fire Chief Kenlon responded in person, and at 5 o'clock the blaze had been extinguished with a total loss in furniture of $10,000, and considerable damage to the floors and walls from the water and smoke. The entire loss is covered by insurance.

The corridor was flooded ankle deep after the firemen had completed the task of extinguishing the last flickering blaze. Some of the water leaked down into the beautiful Chinese room on the first floor, slightly defacing the walls and injuring the costly rugs and tapestries.

Patrons Not Alarmed.

There was not panic among the patrons who occupied rooms on the floors above and the one in which the fire occurred, although the heavy smoke got up as far as the fifth floor, and the odor was perceptible even to those on the twenty-second. All of the elevators were kept running except the one directly in front of the main entrance on the Park Avenue side. This was closed by order of Manager Marshall until several hours after the fire had been extinguished.

Immediately after the departure of the fire apparatus, Mr. Marshall reassembled his forces in all the glory of their gold and purple liveries and set them to work with mops and pails removing the water from the flooded corridors and adjoining rooms. When the last mop had been wrung out and the last vestige of charred debris removed, the disgruntled and peevish hotel staff looked like a big minstrel troupe without, however, displaying any of the jovial humor associated with the jesters of a burned-cork circle.

After the fire Battalion Chief Martin, who was in charge of Engine Companies 21, 6, and 7, which had responded to the two alarms, said that the task of extinguishing the blaze had been greatly facilitated by the stand pipe connections to which lines of hose were attached on the third floor.

Fire Commissioner Johnson was notified by telephone of the fire and hastened to the hotel, but arrived after the work of the department was finished. He expressed great satisfaction at the manner in which Battalion Chief Martin had directed his men.

Employes[sic] Lost Their Heads.

C. D. Whittmore, the architect who designed the hotel, arrived later in the evening, and after inspecting the corridor in which the fire had occurred, said:

"If some of the employes[sic] had not lost their heads and smashed out some of the windows in order to permit the smoke to escape, it would not have been necessary to call on the firemen for assistance. All that was necessary was to close the steel fireproof doors at each end of the corridor and the fire would soon have burned itself out for lack of oxygen. I am glad to have had the building tested. The fire demonstrated that the hotel is fireproof. There is not a shred of wood in its construction, even the window frames and doors being of steel."

The New York Times, New York, NY 14 Jan 1912

article | by Dr. Radut