January 10, 1912, The Evening Post, "Hunt For The Securities,"
Coupon Room of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company Is Undamaged and the Searchers Report that Upper Section of the Treasure Room Has Withstood Severe Fire Test.
Hacking his way through a thick coating of ice, a fireman attempted early this morning to reach the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, in which lie buried probably a billion dollars' worth of securities Urged by W. C. Polllon. vice-president of the vault company, and E. M. Billings, secretary, Chief Kenlon permitted the man to venture into the building and attempt an investigation.
"The upper vaults are all right," was the report brought back. "The front and tear walls are intact, and the coupon room is undamaged. I could not get to the lower vault, for it is covered with ice six feet thick."
Both Polllon and Billings were pleased at the report, which they asserted made it certain that the securities within the vaults had not been touched by fire.
It is the lower vaults which give most concern to Wall Street, for here, according to common estimate, are fully $1,000,000,000 in stocks, bonds, and mortgages. The vaults on the main floor from which William Giblin was so heroically rescued yesterday by the firemen, contain tiers of small security boxes, leased to private individuals, which are of sufficient size only to admit a bundle of securities four or five inches thick, with a little spare apace left for jewelry or other valuable. Here there may be property worth $5,000,000 or $6,000,000, which is only a fraction of the value of securities contained In the lower vaults.
These vaults, to which there was only one entrance—a narrow stairway leading down from the small barred corridor close to the corner of Broadway and Cedar Street—contain engraved securities having value anywhere from $500,000,000 to a billion dollars.
SOME INDIVIDUAL SAFES.
A number of Stock Exchange houses have large individual safes In this vault, the Gould, Belmont, and Harriman estates have rented space to keep there what Is said to be upwards of $400,000,000 of securities; the Equitable Trust Company, Kuhn, Loeb & Co., William A Read & Co., and Thomas F. Ryan also have millions in these lower vaults, which, according to the firemen, may be filled with water. It is possible that this is so, but representatives of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company have told those who used that vault that it is more then likely that the fireproof doors have also proved water-proof, and that when the time comes to open this vault, the contents will be found unharmed.
It will be a week or ten days before the vaults of the safe deposit company, the Equitable Society, or the Mercantile branch of the Bankers' Trust Company are opened. Certainty that the heat contained In them will continue is the restraining factor, and officers of the several companies were emphatic in their declarations that no attempt will be made to open any of the safes or vaults until they are sure that the safety of the billion and a half of securities will not be damaged by such action.
They have in mind what happened to vaults at the time of the Baltimore fire, when the contents were incinerated. At the temporary offices of the Safe Deposit Company, in the Fourth National Bank building, employees were busy answering a constant stream of anxious people whose valuables are now burled beneath tons of masonry and ice. Men and women were constantly coming into the place with the one inquiry: "Do you think the vaults are safe?" The company's employee who had been permitted to accompany the firemen into the burned building, was surrounded by a score of people, plying him with questions which he could not possibly answer.
Notwithstanding the declarations of the Safe Deposit Company men that the securities are safe, grave uncertainty will continue to exist until the vaults are thrown open to each individual depositor. It is now practically certain that the 100,000 life insurance policies stored in small steel boxes In the secretary's office on the second floor of the building have been destroyed, for there was nothing to protect them against the flames.
The records of the Harriman lines in the transfer department, showing the names and addresses of the security-holders, have been burned. A duplicate set of these names was kept by the Mercantile Trust Company, which is the registrar of securities of the Harriman lines, but officials of the Northern Pacific do not know whether the Mercantile's records have been destroyed or were placed in the Mercantile's deposit boxes. If the records are lost, it will be necessary for the railroad company to advertise for names and addresses of holders of stocks and bonds. It will be necessary to secure the addresses as the Mercantile kept only the names. There are about 40,000 stockholders in the Harriman lines, scattered nearly all over the world.
TENANTS RUSH FOR QUARTERS.
As an aftermath of the Equitable fire which unhoused more than 140 tenants, downtown real estate owners who had been overloaded with idle banking and office space through the recent overproduction of office buildings, are having a business harvest, and their agents are engaged in a race for tenants that is without precedent. A great many of the burned-out tenants have been placed in permanent or temporary quarters, but the majority are still seeking locations in which to resume business.
Throughout the downtown section, the effect of the fire is felt in all buildings which have available space, and the scenes in them are not unlike the May Day removals accentuated by an army of clerks and porters, all doing their share in setting things to rights, so that business may be resumed as quickly as possible.
For most of the big banking and stock-brokerage concerns which were housed in the Equitable building it was imperative that they should get new quarters as soon as possible, and this was done without much thought as to the desirability or convenience of the space taken. The Equitable Society, which occupied the greater portion of the burned structure, has already been comfortably housed in three of the floors in the City Investing building, where the home office of the company will be located until provision Is made for a permanent place. Already the company has received from real estate brokers a score or more offers of sites for its new home.
Many options have been expressed as to what the company will do with its estate block, which is probably worth as it now stands as much $16,000,000, but nothing definate has been decided on, and it is not likely that meeting of the directors can be arranged. Until the death its late president, Paul Morton, there was talk of getting a site uptown, with the view of gutting the old block, and it is understood that Morton had authorized a real estate operator to purchase the Murray Hill block, but the matter did not materialize. It is believed, however, that eventually the Equitable will move uptown.
The Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, which by noon yesterday had established itself in quarters formerly used by the Carnegie Safe Deposit Company in the Trinity building, has arranged for new rooms at No. 20 Nassau Street, where the Independent Telephone Company will also be located. W. A. Read & Co. are doing business at No. [ ] Pine Street, and the Equitable Trust Company resumed its business yesterday in the Trinity building.
August Belmont & Co. have established temporary offices in the rear of the ballroom of the Trinity building, which formerly served as the private office of the late Charles W. Gates. Other tenants who have gone to this building and the United States Realty building, No. 115 Broadway, include Pierce A. Greer, Frank Jourdan, Western Maryland railroad, Lawrence A. Lawrence, Bela Darwin Elster, W. Reld Gould, and the Western Union Telegraph Company.