Mittwoch, 13. Oktober 2010

Part 3 - The Park Row Fire 1882

Dramatic scenes in a cold winter night on 31th January 1882. You see the new Tribune Building on the left side in the background, on the total right a small stripe of the old City Park Post Office. The red building behind on the right may be the Temple Court and the higher brown structure in the right background the Vanderbilt Building. In the foreground on the middle left side the Times Building and on the middle right the burning World Building or Potter Building. There are also 5 steam engines hardly on fire to give enough pressure on the firemans water hoses. And many many people came to follow that spectacle and ignoring the bad weather outside this night.

Here is an old map from 1891 for you to watch the scenery from another point of view.

We are reaching the point of time now, where the story of the old World Building from 1857 ends.

My sources were wikipedia, nyc-architecture, epicharmus and google. The main work for my German chapter in March was to translate the texts of those websites into German language. It's not necessary to translate them back from German to English, because they still exist in English. I will let you know about the sources at the end of each part.

"The Potter Building is an iron-framed office building located at 35-38 Park Row in Manhattan,NY.
Commissioned by Orlando B. Potter and designed by Norris G. Starkweather, it was constructed from 1883 to 1886. It replaced one of the New York World's former buildings which burned down in 1882 doing more than $400,000 in damage. The facade was constructed of brick and terracotta, which was chosen by Potter due to its fire resistance and low cost. This soon led to terracotta becoming a popular element in other New York skyscrapers. It was a revolutionary structure in that it was virtually fireproof, made possible by the iron frame and the terracotta, and was the first use of fire-protected steel frame.

1882 Fire

The old Potter Building, or the World Building, was completed in 1857 and was the New York World's first headquarters. However, fire broke out in the building around 10:00 PM on January 31, 1882 and destroyed much of the block within a few hours."

"This iron-framed, brick building is a riot of robust clay capitals and classical details. What was viewed as its greatest innovation at the time of its completion was its virtually fireproof construction, a strength advertised by its iron-clad lower stories and storefronts. The richly ornamented façade is anchored by dramatic eight-story vertical piers in brick with enormous terra-cotta capitals, and the colossal eleven-story embedded column that seem to hinge the corner of Nassau Street and Beekman Place. A builder's plate giving the name of the foundry responsible for the cast iron work remains at the building's southwest corner. The Potter Building is a masterpiece of architectural terra-cotta, and its construction played an important role in the development of terra cotta as a building material in New York. Terra cotta, a type of clay that is molded and fired, was chosen by the building’s owner, Orlando Potter, for its fire resistant properties and low price. At the time, no source of terra cotta existed in New York, and a Boston company was hired to provide the material. Soon after the building’s completion, Potter founded the New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Company, which would manufacture much of the terra-cotta ornament widely used in later skyscrapers.

The massive Victorian skyscrapers on Park Row were built by the city's nineteenth-century newspaper publishers, who found it advantageous to maintain proximity to City Hall and the financial district. From left to right are: the Pulitzer Building (G. B. Post, 1890); the Tribune Building (R. M. Hunt, 1876); the Times Building (G. B. Post, 1889); and the Potter Building (1883). At the turn of the century, the papers began to move uptown, leaving only the name "newspaper row" as their legacy."

Privates, Hook and ladder Co. No. 10
At the Potter Building Fire, on the thirty-first of January, 1881,
especially distinguished themselves. Rooney, standing on a ladder raised
five feet from Beekman Street, saved Miss Ida Small. Murray and Horan saved
Alexander Roberts with a ladder resting on the sill of a third story window.
Two men were caught as they dropped from a signboard on the fourth story by
Nolan, who was on the top of a ladder, and Schwab joined in peril and
piloted to the street five men.


January 31st, 1882, at 10:12 P. M. a destructive and fatal fire broke out in
the Potter or World Building, which faced On park Row, Beekman Street and
Nassau Street. It did more than $400,000 damage, and twelve persons were in
various ways killed. The fire directed attention to a source of peril to
life and property which had before created apprehension, and on the 3d of
February Commissioner Purroy offered the following resolution, which was
Whereas, there have recently been constructed in this city a great number of
large flats and business houses, reaching in many cases to a height
exceeding one hundred feet; and whereas the extreme height to which it is
possible to stretch and mange extension ladders have been probably reached,
and does not exceed seventy feet, thus making futile the vest efforts of
this Department toward rescuing the occupants of the upper stories of the
buildings above mentioned whenever such occupants are cut off from escape
from below; there fore be it

Resolved, That the chief of Department be and is hereby instructed (keeping
in view the increased height of the buildings above mentioned) to report to
this board in writing his views in regard to what improvements in the
appliances and complements of the Department, what changes in regard to the
erection and construction of fire-escapes, and what regulation as to the
construction and maintenance of fire-proof shutters are necessary, together
with any suggestions in regard to the better protection of life and property
he may deem advisable.

Chief Bates' report favored the providing of each Hook and Ladder company
with scaling ladders, one of fifteen feet and one of twenty feet, and a
life-line, and the principal companies were thus equipped. Commissioner
Purroy's foresight was displayed in the resolution which resulted in the
"doubling up" of the most important companies."

Orlando B. Potter was a politician, a property man, a six-million-dollar-man at his death (meaning he'd be worth $140,000,000 today). The New York World Building (not the later 1890 one), at five stories, a relatively tall building for its day, was his baby. In late January 1882, some tenants, including Alfred Ely Beach (the Scientific American editor and inventor of the proto-subway Beach Pneumatic Transit system) complained to Potter of burning-wood smells and unnaturally hot walls, but Potter refused to contact the fire department. A fire gutted the place soon after, one of the worst New York fires of the time. At least six died, included two who jumped to escape flames.

The New York Times, also threatened by the fire as direct neighbour of the World Building, reported a couple of times about the disaster:

1st February 1882
5th February 1882
9th February 1882
12th Februar 1882
16th Februar 1882

This picture was taken a short time after the fire, maybe the day after, showing the whole disaster area. On the left side the Times Building and two buildings in the background on the east side of Nassau Street, not covered by the World Building anymore. The big one may be the Morse Building. By the way, here is the pictures description. Do you remember?

Part 4
World Building - The early years


  1. Steel is really good metals for this generation to make strong and good Building and
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  2. Congratulations on such a beautiful blog. I am really happy to have found it. I have just finished reading Jack Finney's 'Time and Again' and finding this page was really helpful to really understand the action in the book that is about a fellow going back in time to January 1882, when he is trapped inside the old World Building during the start of the fire. Thanks so much for the information.

  3. Thanks Carlus Maximus for liking it. Maybe this is also interesting for you, this is about the New York in the year 1882 - Si Morleys New York:

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