Posts Tagged ‘New York City in 1903’

An Allen Street tenement fire rages in 1903

August 19, 2013

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]

The Williamsburg Bridge’s inferiority complex

January 24, 2012

When the Williamsburg Bridge opened on December 19, 1903, Scientific American (by way of had this to say about a structure critics conceded wasn’t nearly as breathtaking as its neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge:

“Considered from the aesthetic standpoint, the (Williamsburg) Bridge is destined always to suffer by comparison with its neighbor, the (Brooklyn) Bridge,” the magazine wrote.

“It is possible that, were it not in existence, we would not hear so many strictures upon the manifest want of beauty in the later and larger (Williamsburg) Bridge, which is destined to be popular more on account of its size and usefulness than its graceful lines.

“As a matter of fact, the (Williamsburg) Bridge is an engineer’s bridge pure and simple. The eye may range from anchorage to anchorage, and from pier to finial of the tower without finding a single detail that suggests controlling motive, either in its design or fashioning other than bald utility.”