Wednesday, July 20, 2011

January 9, 1912, The Auburn Citizen,

January 9, 1912, The Auburn Citizen, "$10,000,000 Fire In the Heart of New York's Financial District," page 1, column 1, Latest Edition,




Latter, Including Battalion Chief Walsh, Are Probably in the Ruins of Great Marble Structure—Three Firemen Leaped from Roof to Death en Pavement Below-
Blaze Started in a Restaurant and Spread Rapidly—Adjoining Property in Danger.

New York, Jan. 0,—The great marble building of the Equitable Life Assurance Society at 120 Broadway—the home of the Mercantile Trust Company, the Equitable Trust Company, the banking house of Kountze Brothers, the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company and the Harriman Lines—was destroyed early today by fire.

Four men are known to be dead and live injured and several persons are missing, including Battalion Chief Walsh, whose body has not been found.

The fire was still burning in the debris in the basement of the building this afternoon.

The Loss.

Conservative estimates of the damage made this afternoon placed the loss in the neighborhood of $10,000,000 while others say the loss will ran as high as $16,000,000.

Millions of dollars in cash and securities are locked in the vaults of the Assurance Society and the banking and trust companies but are not believed to be affected by the flames.

William Gtblin. president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, was iprisoned in the vaults and as rescued after the firemen had sawd through several two inch steel bars. One man is believed to have lost his life in the vaults.

In Heart of Financial District.

The fire was in the heart of the financial district and the flames were fought mainly from the tops of towering skyscrapers. Business was brought almost to a complete standstill among banking and brokerage houses whose employes could not reach the scene of their daily activities. Financial firms stopped business to care for the firemen.

"With the exception of another insurance building, the biuilding of the Equitable Life Assurance Society has a greater assessed valuation than any other building in the financial district, the tax department showing that its assessed valuation was $12,500,000.

In the Equitable also were the executive offices of the Western Maryland railroad, together with the law offices of Herbert Satterlee, son-in-law of J. Pierpoint Morgan, and Alexander & Green, together with the offices of many other attorneys.

Four alarms were rung in at 6 o'clock this morning for the fire, which, when discovered, was sweeping through the big office building. The building is located at the corner of Broadway and Pine street, across from Old Trinity church, one block above Wall street and, in the heart of the financial district. The first firemen to reach the scene in response to an alarm sent in by a watchman, realized that the task before them was one of the greatest difficulty and their first move was to order out all the fire apparatus in the down town district by means of four successive alarms.

The fire was in the eighth, ninth and tenth stories of the structure before lines of hose sufficient to reach up the long flights of stairs were coupled together. The building is one of the old time structures and its construction offered no serious obstacle to the spread of the flames. The Pine street side of the building from the eighth floor to the roof was a raging furnace. Pine street is a narrow thoroughfare, scarcely affording room for two wagons to pass, and on the opposite side from the Equitable building stands a 20 story skyscraper. The bricks of this structure were steaming with a heat which made them fairly gleam as the firemen retreated from the point where they had taken their first stand.

Streams Lacked Force.

All the water towers were too short to reach the flames, and the hose streams, after winding around the staircase, lost all their force on the upper stories.

Fire officials at an early hour admitted that even with the best efforts they could possibly put forward, the loss would mount to a minimum of probably $5,000,000.

At 7 o'clock the roof of the building fell in. The firemen turned their efforts to the nearby buildings in an effort to stem the advance of the flames.

Police officials reported at this hour that thee loss of life would probably be about eight. Three men jumped from the roof of the Equitable building into Cedar street, the police reported, and were killed.

The fire started In the Cafe Savarin, an eating house in the basement of the building. While the restaurant employes were smothering the flames in their kitchens, the blaze crept up the elevator shafts without their knowledge and a few minutes later broke out in unrepressed,fury on the upper floors.

Bodies in Plain Sight.

At 7:30 o'clock the police supplemented their bulletin regarding loss of life by the announcement that the three men who jumped into Cedar street were probably firemen, part of a crew which had been sent to the roof of the building. Three mere bodies, supposed to be those of workmen or watchmen, could be seen through the flames in one of the basement rooms of the building.

By this time the entire building, from cellar to roof and on all four sides, was a seething mass of flames. All the floors fell in soon after the roof went but the great granite walls held firm.

The firemen made a desperate effort to save the three men who jumped into Cedar street but they had no time to rig their life nets. The three stood on the cornice of the building only a moment or two, the flames behind them driving them to desperation. Then they knelt for just a moment, lifted their hands in prayer, and leaped together to the cobbles, 150 feet below.

So tremendous was the heat that great blocks of the granite walls burst from their places and crashed into the streets, adding a new danger to the others which threatened firemen and policemen. After a few moments spent under this avalanche of falling rock. Chief Kenton ordered his men withdrawn from Cedar and Pine streets.

A gale of wind sweeping through the streets drove the flames through the building from end to end. Firemen dragged their hose to the tops of the Chase National Bank on Pine street and from the top of the Fourth National bank on Nassau street while other lines of hose were run upon a sky scraper opposite the burning building on Broadway from which streams of water were directed on the flames. Five alarms were turned in and fire tugs from the North and East rivers grouped themselves at a convenient dock and pumped volumes of water into the building.

Fire Commissioner Johnson discovered a man imprisoned in the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company at the corner of Cedar street and Broadway. The man could be seen from the street and his legs were pinned down by a mass of fixtures and debris which had fallen from above. He was alive and held out his bands to the firemen who made frantic though futile efforts to break through the heavy steel doors. Father McGean of the Fire department gave the last rites of the church to him.

The imprisoned man was William Glblln, the president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, who had arrived at the building after the fire was under headway and attempted to take some papers from the place. He was later taken out badly injured.

Deputy's Narrow Escape.

Deputy Fire Chief William Walsh and five firemen were caught when a section of floor in an upper story gave way. The firemen managed to reach a window ledge where they were rescued by means of life lines, but Chief Walsh had disappeared, in the smoking ruins. Efforts were made to reach the spot where he was buried but the firemen could not find him.

Father McGean nearly lost his life when administering the last rites to the man imprisoned in the safe deposit vault, the firemen dragging him away just as a shower of bricks and stones fell on the spot where he had been kneeling.

As the firemen carried Father McGean away the imprisoned man turned to him and pityingly said:

"For God's sake, Father, take me out of here, I am dying. Can't you get at me."

Two porters in the Safe Deposit Company were rescued from the basement of the building when the sidewalk in front of the structure caved in. They were injured and removed to a hospital.

Confined to Equitable Building.

The fire was finally confined to the Equitable building, though for a time It seemed as though the flames would sweep across the street and set fire to the American Exchange National Bank at Cedar street and Broadway on which the sparks were falling in a perfect shower. This building was kept wet down by streams of water from the skyscrapers on all sides.

The heat of the flames toad the intensity of a blast furnace. The heavy floors of the building buckled under the giant walls crumbled under the white hot fire and fell in while heat and dropped piece meal into

Part of tbe Brooklyn fire department was despatched to the scene to aid in preventing the spread of the flames.

Business in the financial section of the city was brought practically to a standstill by the fire. Thousands of clerks in banking and brokerage houses, railroad and industrial corporations were held back by police lines formed two blocks north of the fire and traffic of every kind in the Streets nearby the burning building was forbidden by the police.

Tried to Penetrate Vault.

After the flames had been checked three men were reported to be alive in the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, where one man had already lost his life and the firemen tried to batter down the steel doors. The falling stone and brick and the heat had warped the doors and they could not be unlocked. While the firemen ware hammering away a part of the coping fell and the rescuers had a narrow escape. After the stone had fallen the firemen made renewed efforts to penetrate the steel doors.

Three employes of the building saved themselves from death by leaping from the third floor of the building to the street below. They were taken to the hospitals seriously injured.

After the fire had been checked and the firemen were able to get closer to the buidtilng it was discovered that the Belmont building on Nassau street which adjoins, the burning building, had been saved though the offices of August Belmont & Co., had been flooded with water.

Firemen at last succeeded in battering in a steel door and rescuing two watchman who were imprisoned in the vault.

Ambulances from four hospitals were on the scene to take care of the injured.

Rescue of Giblin.

President Giblin of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company was rescued from the vaults of his company after the firemen had sawed through several steel bars. He was believed to be mortally injured.

After President Giblin was rescued from the fire he was carried to the boiler room of the Trinity building. Ambulance surgeons stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in heavy blankets. Stimulants were administered. After a brief interval of rest Mr. Giblln said:

"I was sitting up last nlght with my wife who has been very ill, when an employe of tbe hotel informed me that the Equitable building was on fire. When I arrived at the building there were no flames but plenty of smoke. I hurried into one of the vaults to get out some valuable papers followed by one of the night watchmen whose name I do not know. The vault has a spring lock and I left my keys outside.

Door Swung Shut.

"When the man and I started to leave the door swung shut and we were both prisoners. The smoke was awful. We screamed and shouted but it seemed as though we were both doomed. The other poor fellow was alive up to half an hour ago, but just before I was carried out he fainted and think he must be dead by this time."

Mr. Giblin was taken to tbe Hudson street hospital. He was very weak but in no immediate danger.

The offices of the Harriman lines, which were in tbe building, were being moved to 165 Broadway. Everything had been moved save the papers in their legal department. Many
valuable records, including the autobiography of E. H. Harriman, were there and it was believed that these and other valuable records were destroyed.

Business at Standstill.

Banking and brokerage business was halted for a time by the fire and the governors of the stock exchange met to determine what action should be taken with respect to deliveries of securities purchased yesterday.

The clearing house in the Chase National Bank was closed and temporary quarters were opened at the Chamber of Commerce. Depositors and bank customers of the burned
out trust companies as well as those of financial institutions located in the neighborhood of the burned building were unable to reach their banks, being held back by the police lines.

An officer of the Equitable Life Assurance Society said that the society had duplicates of every record which were stored in a building several blocks away from the burned structure. The fire, he said, would not affect the company's business with its policyholders throughout the country.

Officials of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company said tbe vaults were intact and not a cent would be lost.

Later the governors decided that transfers will be suspended for a day except by mutual consent.

Loss Small, Says Lovett.

President Lovett of the Harriman Lines said that all of the Union and Southern Pacific securities held in the treasury were kept outside the building and the loss to the railroads would be small. Mr. Lovett said that the extent of inconvenience suffered
because of the lose of records will of course, depend upon whether the vaults on the third and fourth floors of the buildings have been destroyed. The records referred to include those of the comptrollers department, the treasuers office and the transfer departmnet.

President Day of the Equitable called a meeting of the Executive Committee at the company's new building on Greenwich street to consider the matter of securing temporary quarters. Of the 1,800 clerks employed by the society about 600 were employed in this main building while the others were engaged in the Greenwich street building.

The offices of the Equitable Trust

(continued on ninth page)

Page 9, Column 6,
FIRE LOSS WAS $10,000,000

(Continued from first page).

Company luckily escaped the flames, but were damaged by water, as were the offices of August Belmont, who said his offices were practically un­touched by flames though well water soaked.

Day Issues Statement.

President Day of the Equitable is­sued the following statement this afternoon.

"The burning of the home office at 120 Broadway will cause but tem­porary inconvenience in the transac­tion of our business. Securities and important records are protected by fire proof vaults which are intact. Most of the office force and records were removed some time ago to the society's new building No. 2 Albany Street.

"The executive offices of the soci­ety and the casihler's department have been established in the City Investing building. The society will oc­cupy the second, third and fourth floors of that building. This will for the time being be the home office of the society where all business with the public will be transacted."

Gage Tarbell, a former vice presi­dent of the Equitable, said that the company carried it own insurance. According to an officer of the Equitable the great safety deposit vaults in the building contained last night securities aggregating between $250,000,000 and $300,00O.O00. The vaults are believed to be still intact.

Many of the large New York banks announced that owing to the fire they would witihhold their prerogative of calling loans today.

The money market, owing to the action of these bankers, was practi­cally at a stand still.


News from New York Relieves Superintendent Hotchkiss.

Albany, N.Y., Jan. 9 .—As soon as he learned of the destruction of the Equitable Life Assurance So­ciety building today, Superintendent of Insurance Hotchkiss communicat­ed with officials of the society for the purpose of ascertaining if the records had been saved. He was much gratified to learn that most of the vital records were kept in the branch offices of the society in the Hazen building, several blocks from the main offices.

"The records of the Equitable or any large insurance company," said Mr. Hotchkiss, "are of inestimable value and probably could never be replaced. It is fortunate that most of them have been saved from de­struction.

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