New York, NY White Street Fire, Jan 1888




A fire remarkable for its fierceness and its freaks broke out last night in the cellar of 81 White-street, occupied by Simon & Strelitzer, commission merchants. The building, which was five stories high, while apparently isolated, was connected by doors and flues with 79 and 83 and 85 White-street. At the start, at 7:45 o’clock, the flames seized on materials impregnated with tar and “sulked” until past 8 o’clock, when they began to ascend by a hoistway, and a second alarm was struck. A quarter of an hour later they blazed with such fury as to illuminate the lower part of the city, and the lines and profiles of the Court House, City Hall, and Post Office were brought out as in full day. A third alarm was sent out and it was followed by several special calls, so that 15 engines and 5 hook and ladder companies were brought to the spot.

Soon after the third alarm was sent out Chief Shay and Assistant Chief Brennan were exceedingly anxious and a not little embarrassed. The connecting flues and doors in 79 and 83 and 85 let the flames into these buildings, so that the firemen were “double banked,” and, to add to their embarrassment, the flames “jumped the street,” setting fire to the top floor of 82 and 84 White-street, six-story buildings, occupied by F. S. Higgins, carpets, and W. Topping & Co., auctioneers, and the novel spectacle was given of firemen in a building in flames directing the nozzles of hose on a building opposite on fire from cellar to roof. Very prompt and skilled management averted a serious dry goods district calamity, and not the least important aid in preventing it was Water Tower No. 1, which not only played its elevated stream, but send a more powerful one from its platform. The fire attracted so widespread attention that persons came from all parts of the city, and among them was District Attorney Fellows and a party of friends. The fire at 82 and 84 White-street was under control in a quarter of an hour, but it was not until 9:30 o’clock that Chief Shay was certain that the other fire would not extend beyond 79, 81, 83, and 85 White-street.

At 10 o’clock the extent of the disaster was the gutting of 81, the seriously damaging of 79 and 83 and 85, and the gutting of the sixth floor of 82 and 84 White-street. The losses were computed as follows:
Seventy-nine White-street. – at Farrigan & Smith, sample room, by water, $1,500; Edward Barr, bookbinder, fire and water, $1,500; building, $2,000.
Eighty-one White-street. = Simon & Strelitzer, the Caxton Publishing Company, $35,000; other occupants, $4,000; building, $12,000.
Eighty-three and 85 White-street. – B. McCabe, mats, $1,000; Boyd, White & Co., miscellaneous, $1,500; Sperry & Beale, mattresses, $1,000; R. Beattes & Co., carpets, $1,000; Bradley, Voorhees & Day, suspenders and bustles, $15,000; building damaged $3,000.
Eighty-two and 84 White-street. – Topping & Co., $3,000; F. S. Higgins & C., $5,000; building was damaged $4,000.

These estimates make a total loss of $129,000. One of the features of the fire was a display of colored flashes from electric wires in front of 81 White-street after their insulating material had been burned off.

The fire is remarkable because of the flames from 81 White-street setting fire to 82 and 84. Such and occurrence is rare. Ten years ago, when the explosion occurred in Greenleaf’s candy factory, the fire “leaped” to College-place. This is the last record of fire crossing a street in the “Dry Goods District.” When the firemen were “opening up” 81 White-street last night, a piece of plate glass cut the peak of the helmet of Patrick Ranberry of Truck Company No. 7 and lacerated his forehead. He went to quarters.

The New York Times, New York, NY 3 Jan 1888