An Allen Street tenement fire rages in 1903

Allenstreetfire1903The fire started on the windy morning of March 14 in a basement restaurant.

Isidore Davis, a tenement resident who ran a wine-making business also in the basement, was returning home at about 3:45 a.m. when he saw flames coming from a funnel in the restaurant’s sink.

“He tried to put it out, as it was already licking the woodwork,” a New York Times article stated the next day. The small fire quickly became a blaze that sent smoke rising through hallways.

Within 10 minutes, engines and a hook and ladder company were on the scene. But already the fire had spread to every floor of the building.

“Men, women, and children were on the fire escapes screaming,” a newspaper wrote. “Quickly the hook and ladder companies extended ladders to the escapes in the rear and front of the building.”

After wind gusts fueled the flames, some of the 150 residents began to jump. “Persons crowding on the fire escapes dropped like flies or plunged into the arms of the waiting firemen.”

AllenstreetsignBy the time the fire was put out (above left photo), 20 residents—all Jewish immigrants—had perished.

Fires in crowded, unsanitary tenements weren’t rare in 1905. But the heavy death toll made the Allen Street fire front page news.

“The great loss of life in what was merely a two-alarm fire is ascribed by firemen to the fact that escapes were blocked with boxes and rubbish, while nearly every opening to allow a free passage from one escape to the other was boarded over,” the Times wrote.

105allenstreet2013“On the top floor 10 bodies were found huddled together under a closed scuttle. The coroner declared that this showed neglect on the part of some one to have the exits clear.”

After an investigation, the Tenement House Department ended up taking the blame. Inspectors reportedly didn’t keep 105 Allen Street’s fire escapes clear and the roof skylight unlocked.

The head of the department, however, insisted his men did the best they could, but after every inspection, residents would lock the roof and clutter up the escapes once again.

[Lower left: 105 Allen Street today]

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6 Responses to “An Allen Street tenement fire rages in 1903”

  1. Paul Ruoso Says:

    I am not sure if 105 is the same building. Compare the old with new photo. Different architectural features around windows, brickwork, the windows along the center of the old photo abut each other while in the new they are of equal spacing. Just sayin..

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yeah, it could have been rebuilt partially or fully–I couldn’t tell from looking at it. And definitely a top floor was added down the line. Wish the old ad on the side was still there….

    • Building Permit Says:

      Fully rebuilt: 1905

      Allen st, s w cor Delancey st 6-sty brk and stone store and tenement, 25.3×80.2

      (o) J Katz and M Weinstein & Co / (o) 1 Union sq
      (a) E A Meyers / (a) 1 Union sq

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Great find, thanks for sending! Must have been a noisy building with the elevated tracks right there.

  4. Bruce R. Gilson Says:

    Since I lived at 93 Allen Street when i was about 8 years old, that is a neighborhood whch had some resonance to me.

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