New York, NY McCreery Building Fire, Jul 1909


Old McCreery Building, Containing Fleischmann Bakery, Fur and Cloak Firms, Destroyed.


Well Wet Down by Their Fire Brigades - Great Volume of Water from High-Pressure Mains.

The old McCreery building, at Broadway and Eleventh Street, in which was the Fleischmann bakery and restaurant, the cloak firms of Gustave Lurie & Co., and F. G. Bates & Co., and the fur house of the John Ruszits Fur Company, the latter one of the largest concerns of its kind in the country, was practically destroyed by fire late yesterday afternoon. Chief Croker said that a conservative estimate of the loss would be $500,000 or more, while some of the insurance adjusters said it would probably reach $1,000,000.

It was said that the Ruszits Company's loss would be anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. Chester M. Van Kleeck, the secretary of the company, it was said last night, is now on his way to the city. He was notified by telegraph, and until his arrival the actual loss of the Ruszits Company will not be known.

Otto Fleischmann, it was said, would be the man to estimate the loss sustained by the Fleischmanns. Mr. Fleischmann was also out of town last night. Itwas reported that the Fleischmann loss was about $90,000. Gustave Lurie said last night that the could not at that time estimate the losses of the firm bearing his name. Neither was the loss of the Bates Company to be had last night.

The destroyed building, which was five stories high, occupied the northwest corner of Broadway and extended back on Eleventh Street half way to University Place, where it adjoined the Bradford Hotel. Opposite, on the southwest corner of Broadway, is the St. Denis Hotel, and just below the St. Denis on Eleventh Street is the Hotel Albert. Grace Church and the Wanamaker stores are just below on Broadway. The management of the Hotel St. Denis, realizing the extent of the fire, organized from the hotel employes a bucket brigade of twenty-five men, who where kept busy for nearly two hours pouring water on the roof of the hotel to prevent it from catching fire from burning embers. The Bradford also had its bucket brigade out.

It was about 5:10 P. M. when Alexander Meyers, the taxicab agent of the St. Denis, who was standing on the corner of Broadway and Eleventh street, discovered a little thread of smoke coming out of one of the windows on the second floor of the part of the building occupied by the Ruszits Company, on Eleventh Street. Meyers immediately turned in an alarm and then ran down to the Eleventh Street entrance of the burning building at the time were the bakers in the basement under the Fleischmann Restaurant, and a few waiters, and the cashier in the restaurant proper.

Rapid Spread of the Fire.

The fire spread with remarkable rapidity, and in five minutes after Meyers had turned in the alarm and before the first of the fire apparatus arrived, the entire second floor, from one end of the building to the other, was ablaze. When Chief Croker arrived he turned in a second and a third alarm. The whole upper part of the building was then in flames. Chief Croker said afterward that he had known few fires that had spread as rapidly as this one. This was in part due, he said, to the fact that the floor space in the building was not restricted, but extended from end to end of the building without partitions.

Chief Croker, who always responds to first alarms in the dry goods section, leaped into his automobile when the alarm sounded, and, without waiting for his chauffeur, started down Broadway at breakneck speed. With one hand he guided the big red machine through the maze of traffic, while with the other he furiously rang the fire bell attached to the car. He arrived on the scene on the heels of the first apparatus and immediately turned in a second, and then a third, alarm.

The fire was spectacular and drew to the scene thousands of spectators, to control whom and hold the fire lines intact the full reserve forces of five police stations were necessary. The smoke rose in great clouds hundreds of feet into the air, fanned by a stiff northwesterly breeze, making a pall of smoke that completely blanketed Broadway from view from both sides of the burning building. The firemen experienced the greatest difficulty in fighting the blaze as a result of the density of the smoke, while the wind, veering now and then, appreciably affected the volume of water that was being poured into the building by the high-pressure apparatus.

For over an hour, despite the fact that the high pressure never worked better than it didi yesterday, the onlookers could note no diminution in the extent of the blaze. So great was the flood of water hurled into the building from Broadway and Eleventh Street that Eleventh Street from curb to curb was a running stream of water over a foot deep. When the pressure was at its highest one of the mains burst, throwing a column of water over 100 feet into the air. This column caught two men, pitching them out into the middle of Broadway and injuring one of them so severely that he had to be taken to a hospital.

Owing to the close proximity of so many hotels to the south of the burning building, Chief Croker had a dozen lines of hose brought into Eleventh Street, the combined apparatus making an almost unbroken wall of water, separating those structures from the conflagration on the north. During all this time the firemen, unmindful of the strong wind that was fanning the blaze, scurried up ladders to the hot iron fire escapes in order to fight the fire at close range. Although Chief Croker said that the fire was one of the smokiest he had ever handled, none of the firemen so far as could be learned was overcome.

Crowd Cheers Flagstaff Removal.

One of the nerviest acts on the part of the firemen was when the big flagstaff in the centre of the building on Broadway was burned off, the pole falling to the roof and about thirty feet of it hanging over Broadway. When the pole began to sway one of the firemen shouted to the men at work on the Broadway side to run for their lives. This they did, and when the pole caught on the edge of the burning building and remained suspended over Broadway several of the firemen worked their way to the roof and pulled the pole from its dangerous perch, while the crowds below cheered.

After two and a half hours of the hardest sort of fighting the firemen finally got the blaze under control, and Chief Croker then ordered the high pressure reduced to 150 pounds. The Chief said that the high pressure worked almost perfectly, and it alone, in his opinion, prevented the Eleventh Street wall from falling and crashing into the buildings on the other side of the street. Under the old system of fire fighting, he said, it would have been almost impossible to have prevented the collapsing of these walls.

As a result of the fire the street car service on Broadway below Fourteenth Street was at a standstill for almost three hours. For nearly the same length of time, the Fourth and Madison Avenue service, on block to the west, was also at a standstill. On University Place horse car No. 17 was caught between two lines of hose, where it remained from 5:30 to 8 P. M. The subway as a direct result of these tieups was called upon to handle the home-bound holiday crowds, making it the heaviest day's underground traffic since the hot weather set in.

The Loss of the Bread Line.

The fire put an end to, for at least some weeks, the famous Fleischmann bread line. This institution, which distributes laves of bread each night to hundreds and sometimes thousands of hungry men, has been one of the best-known charities of New York for years. It was established by the founder of the Fleischmann corporation, and since his death has been carried on by his heirs. The police said that the line had averaged three blocks in length every night for weeks. Otto Fleischmann, the head of the company, was not in town last night, and there was no way of finding out whether or not this charity of his father would be maintained pending the rebuilding of the bakery.

The Charity Organization Society was asked last night if any effort would be made by the society to furnish food to the men who would go hungry as a result of the fire in the old McCreery Building. It was said that if any of the men came to the society for assistance they would be advised to go to the Municipal Lodging House, where they could get both food and bed.

Between fifty and a hundred men, who have been in the habit of standing in the Fleischmann bread line, appeared on Broadway at Twelfth Street shortly before midnight, expecting to get their nightly loaf. The hungry men would gather in little groups and discuss the hard luck of the thing, and then the police reserves who were still on duty would order them to disperse. Several persons who panned gave small sums of money to the loiterers.

In addition to the firms named, two out-of-town dry goods concerns had offices in the burned building. These concerns were the Bailey Company of Cleveland, Ohio, and D. B. Loveman & Co. of Chattanooga, Tenn.

The New York Times, New York, NY, 4 Jul 1909