TOLEDO BLADE, FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 1893. Page-1, three full columns of text and diagrams
GONE UP IN SMOKE
A Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollar Blaze
Destroys an Old and Famous Block This Morning
Flames Eat Up the Tinder Box With Avidity
Heavy Loss to All the Tenants and Neighboring Buildings
Wheeler’s Opera House is a mass of smoldering ruins today. The old landmark which has stood at the corner of Monroe and St. Clair streets for 22 years, was entirely consumed by fire at an early hour this morning. The estimated losses at noon were as follows:
Wheeler estate: $80,000
Gilbert Shoe Co: $35,000
Fred Allen: $5,000
Peter Sattler: $12,000
Daniel Noe: $2,000
Wm. Oschaler: $8,000
Sigmund Wolff: $5,000
T.D. Parker: $1,000
Samuel W. Brady: $2,500
Total Estimated Loss: $150,000
The fire started at 1 o’clock at the second story of the building, and made so much headway before an alarm was turned in. The stage dressing rooms and scenery made rich food for the flames, and the more heroic efforts of the fire department could not stay the onslaught of the flames. The first alarm was sent in to the American District office from John Bolan’s saloon. The fire ladies were quickly at the scene, and streams of water were playing on the hissing flames. The fire was confined to the Monroe street side of the building for sometime, but finally worked its way into the St. Clair street side. It was then evident that the building and its contents were doomed.
At 1:45 o’clock, the opera house roof fell in with a loud crash. Shortly after the St. Clair street wall gave way. The flying brick and stone blocked up that thoroughfare to the depth of several feet.
Sattler’s harness store, which occupied a three story brick building adjoining the opera house building, on the Monroe street side was the next victim of the voracious flames. Its inflammable contents helped on the work of destruction, and building was soon gutted. The charred and cracked wall alone remained. Parker’s grocery store, adjoining Sattler’s, was not burned, although considerable damage was done to the contents of the building by the large volume of water thrown on to the structure.
The fire department worked like Trojans to save the burned buildings, and stop the spread of the flames. Chief Wall is confined to his home by sickness, but his intelligent assistants handled the fire in a most praiseworthy manner. A lack of proper water pressure in the early stages of the fire greatly handicapped the efficiency of the force, but it is doubtful if any pressure could have stayed the disaster. All night long the rubber-coated and helmeted fire fighters labored to subdue their old enemy.
George Thatcher’s Tuxedo played at Wheeler’s last night, the last performance to be given within its stone veneered walls, Parepa Rosa, the old-time prima donna, gave the initial performance after the completion of the building in 1871. It was a great event for Toledo at that time, and the Toledo papers were filled with columns of matter describing the new place of amusement and its brilliant opening.
The Tuxedo company will lose but little, if anything, by this morning’s disaster. The performance closed at an early hour, and by 11 o’clock the last of the company’s scenery and baggage had been removed. Fire Alarm Superintendent J.M. McNamara happened to be down town when the first alarm was turned in, and was soon on the ground. He at once foresaw the danger of which would result from the breaking and crossing of the network of electric wires on Monroe Street, and quickly ordered all dangerous wires cut. The circuit of many was withdrawn entirely.
The forethought of the superintendent avoided many an accident, as the falling walls and debris broke and twisted the telegraph, telephone, and electric light and street car trolley wires in every conceivable shape and the jagged edge flapped uneasily on the sidewalks and pavement.
Janitor Price, of the opera house building, made a careful examination of the entire premises after the Tuxedo party had left, and found everything alright at that time. He then retired as usual to his sleeping room over Sattler’s harness store. At 1 o’clock Price saw saw the flames from his bedroom window, as they burst forth from the opera house front. He dressed himself and ran to the theater basement to turn on the water, but the dense smoke caused his hasty retreat. By this time the flames had control of the structure, and he could do nothing to stop their progress. The origin of the fire is unknown. The janitor thinks it started under the raised floor of the auditorium. He scouts the idea that they originated in the gallery or were caused by a lighted cigar left by some actor or baggage smasher.
Every store room in the opera house proper was occupied by tenants. Sigmund Wolff occupied the corner store, with his wholesale and retail cigar business. Fred Alien’s saloon occupied the long narrow room on the St. Clair street side next to the main entrance to the theatorium.
On the Monroe street side next to Wolff’s cigar store Wm. Oeschler conducted a large crockery establishment. The Gilbert shoe company occupied the next apartment, which was the roomiest in the building. This apartment ran the full length of the building, with a good sized L attachment. Thirty thousand dollars worth of footwear were stored in this room. Like the contents of the other stores, the whole stock went up in smoke, with little or no salvage. The Gilberts are the heaviest losers of all except the owners of the opera-house building. The adjoining room toward Superior street was occupied by Daniel Noe’s Opera saloon.
The pavements and streets adjacent to the scene of the fire have been crowded with sightseers since daylight. At 8 o’clock this morning it was almost impossible for a passing pedestrian to crowd his way through. Ropes were stretched along the edge of the pavement at the opera house corner, to keep people back out of the street.
Blue-coated policemen were busy keeping the surging crown out of the way of the firemen who were still at work at that hour.
Several streams of water were kept playing on the smoking ruins. Part of the Monroe street wall was left standing, when the balance fell into the street. The bold firemen were holstered to the top of the trembling ruins by the aid of extension ladders, and quickly fastened ropes around the top of the slender tower of heated bricks. After descending to a place of safety the whole mass came tumbling down in answer to a sturdy pull at the rope lever. Traffic at Monroe and St. Clair streets at the scene of the ruins is entirely suspended.
Bricks stone and long serpentine coils of hose litter those two streets, nearly half a block each way. The depressions and interstices of the street car tracks and stone pavement are one mass of ice. Huge telegraph poles, holding hundreds of pounds of heavy wire were broken off, some at the ground and some at six to twenty feet above. The electric light and trolley wires are bent and broken, and although entirely lifeless as far as the deadly electrical current is concerned, they look very dangerous withal. Gangs of line repairers were at work at daybreak trying to straighten out the confused mass.
Of course, street car traffic is out of the question on Monroe or St. Clair streets. The Consolidates pressed the old familiar Dorr street bob-tail cars into service this morning. It looked like old times to hear the drivers bellow “Git up,” “Go long,” to the decrepit old horses drawing the ancient cars. This outfit will be all the accommodations offered patrons of the Adams and Monroe belt line to-day, unless the Superior street tracks can be utilized.
The Robison lines are better off. They are running as usual, as they can utilize the Jefferson street line, over which they are running the cars usually sent via Monroe street.
By noon the begrimed line of repairers had the myriad broken wires gathered up and piled in small heaps on the street corners. A small army of laborers worked all morning, cleaning up Monroe and St. Clair streets from its mass of brick, stone, and mortar. The high rear walls remained intact, but are considered dangerous. The fire department lashed ropes to the wall near the main entrance and at 1 o’clock succeeded in bringing down a large section of the tottering wreck, which fell into the ruins of the main building with a loud report. Several firemen succeeded in forcing down small sections of the rear wall , by working from the top of an adjoining building on St. Clair street. They used a long ladder as a battering ram and did effective service. The crowds broke thru the rope barrier at noon and despite the efforts of the police, swarmed around the ruins, packed in like sardines. They fell back with alacrity when the swaying walls came tumbling down. By dark all danger from falling debris will be over.
Night Clerk Waldorf, of the Union Hotel says he was the first to discover the fire.
“About 20 minutes after the last load of the Tuxedo company’s baggage had been removed, I noticed a bright light in the interior of the opera house, which seemed to come from under the stage,” said the genial clerk, “I tried to turn in an alarm from the hotel, but the apparatus must have been out of order as the alarm did not reach the District office. The alarm was finally turned in from John Bolan’s saloon. It was fully twenty minutes after I first discovered the fire before the fire department responded, so you see there was quite a delay. By this time the whole interior up stairs seemed to be ablaze and I never saw a building burn so rapidly in all my experience.”
The heat from the fire was intense, and played havoc with plate glass windows on the opposite side of the street. Every plate window from the corner occupied by the Hotel Union, up to the alley including the saloon of John Bolan across the alley was cracked or broken by the blistering heat.