Fire Department Journal
The Arcadia Lodging House Fire December 3, 1913
The Arcadia Lodging House Fire December 3, 1913
The South End of Boston was a busy, congested area at the turn of the century. Laconia Street was located only a couple of blocks from the busy Dover Street stop on the old "Boston Elevated." There were numerous hotels and lodging houses located in this area to handle the many transient workers who worked in the area.
One of these was the Arcadia Lodging House which was located at 1202 Washington Street at Laconia Street. This building was a five story brick with a mansard roof. It had a large spiral staircase in the front and one balcony fire escape in the rear. There were accommodations for 243 men. On this fatal night 159 men had registered. The going rate was 15, 20 and 25 cents for various beds. At the time of the fire, a total of nineteen men occupied the 25 cents beds on the second and third floors. Forty men occupied the 20 cents beds on the fourth floor and eighty men were in the fifth floor 15 cents beds. The first floor was occupied by a saloon, shooting gallery, shoe shop and tobacco store. The upper floors were occupied by the lodging house.
The fire started about 0200 hours in a closet on the first floor near the main stairway. The cause may have been spontaneous combustion but it may also have been set by a man who was refused admittance earlier in the evening. The fire was discovered by a boy sitting in the reading room as he did not have money for a room. He alerted the night clerk, Mr. James Welsh, and the night watchman, Mr. Arthur McGlynn. They sounded the house alarm and started to wake the residents. Some residents claim they did not hear any alarm. A citizen passing in the street sounded the alarm from Box 771, at Washington Street and Cottage Place. The first alarm was sounded at 0204, followed by a 2nd at 0209, and the 3rd at 0211.
Engine Company 3, with Captain Michael "Iron Mike" Boyle, was the first engine to arrive and they started a line of hose in the front door and knocked down a lot of fire. The fire raced up the stairs to the top floor where it took full possession of this floor. Ladder Company 3, with Captain William "Big Bill" Coulter, was the first truck to arrive and they started rescue operations right away.
In less than one minute three ladders had been raised on Washington Street and in the next minute, two more ladders were raised on Laconia Street. Remember, the manning then was at least an officer and six or seven men! Some residents had jumped prior to the arrival of the fire department. Both Engine Company 3 and Ladder Company 3 were located just two blocks away at Harrison Avenue and Bristol Street.
Ladder Company 3 was using a service ladder, which did not have an aerial ladder. Ladders 13,17 and 12 would have aerial ladders. Lifenets, were used also by the first due ladder companies and several lodgers were saved when they jumped.
Engine Company 22 and Engine Company 23 followed Engine 3 up the front stairs with lines of hose and the fire was contained in a matter of minutes but the damage had been done. Twenty-eight men died and twenty more were injured; some from jumping from the upper floors. Chemical fire extinguishers were provided on each floor but none were utilized. The lodgers were required to lock their clothing in a box at the foot of each bed. Most residents were not able to dress before they escaped.
Chief of Department John Mullen was in charge and was assisted by Deputy Chief Peter McDonough and District Chief J.T. Byron of District 7.
Several Boston Police Officers, from the West Dedham Street Station, tried to ascend the front stairs but were unable to do so prior to the arrival of the Fire Department. Mayor Fitzgerald visited the site the next morning and ordered a full investigation. The lodging house was managed by John Lyons of Brookline. He also managed several other lodging houses in the area. The building was owned by G.H. Gulesian.
The Fire Department received much praise in the Boston newspapers for the good work performed at this fire. Many were rescued over ladders and others that made it to the roof were assisted by firefighters to adjoining buildings via wooden planks.
The building codes of the day were not as stringent as we have today and Mayor Fitzgerald did order Firefighters and Police officers to visit all hotels and lodging houses in the City. Several bad ones were ordered closed so maybe this fire did some good, just as the Coconut Grove fire did years later.
You can't even find Laconia Street on a map today. This area had many large fires over the years. The Roosevelt Hotel was only two blocks north on Washington Street, it burned in 1968 and nine people died that night.
Eng. 3, 22, 23, 26
Lads 3, 13
**Water Tower 2
Eng. 7, 13, 15
Lads 12, 17
Eng. 1, 10, 33, *35
* All apparatus was horse-drawn except Engine Co. 35 which was a. self-propelled steamer.
4,800 feet of hose used. Damage to the building was listed as $17,500 and to the contents as $1,651. Boy, how times have changed!
** From Fire Headquarters on Bristol Street., 2 blocks away from Engine Co. 3 and Ladder Co.3; now the site of the Pine Street Inn.
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