Monday, December 8, 2014

The Burdick Burns And Deja Vu

On the night of March 7, 1907, smoke began to fill the Star Bargain House next to the Burdick Hotel. Once noticed by a chef at the Empire restaurant next door, the alarm was raised and every fire company in the city was eventually on site to battle the blaze. [1] For a long time the thick, black smoke prevented the firemen getting more than two feet into the building which greatly hampered efforts to douse the fire at its source. [1] Fears were great that the fire would spread to the Burdick. This was more than a passing concern as many walls had been torn down for renovating the hotel and the nearly completed Arcade (a stretch of interior shops), which separated the Burdick from the Star Bargain House. [1] If the fire managed to reach the Arcade it would create a tremendous draft that would span the entire block. In that case, the whole block could be consumed.

The staff and about 25 guests of the Burdick were asked to vacate their rooms as the inky smoke quickly filled the halls and billowed out of windows. [1] On the street, the guests joined thousands of onlookers who had gathered to watch the excitement. [1] Apparently, the smoke that blanketed the area wasn't enough to keep them far away. In fact, the fire was actually a boon to nearby businesses that sold refreshments to the throng. [1]

Fortunately in 1907, local firefighters succeeded in controlling the fire in about 2.5 worry-filled hours without the assistance of Battle Creek crews (who were on notice). [1] In another couple of hours the fire was out, though a hose was kept on the smoldering remains until morning. [1] Though the Star Bargain House was nearly a total loss and the Burdick Hotel suffered much smoke damage, no lives were lost and hotel guests were soon able to retrieve their belongings. [1] In total, losses were estimated at about $55,000. [1]

Both businesses made comebacks. The Star Bargain re-filled with goods. The Burdick renovated (again) and the Arcade was redone in grand style. Now, in December 1909, the Arcade was nearly completed with its businesses planning their grand openings. It would be a great addition to the hotel and the city. Things looked bright for this block of Main Street.

Then about ten o'clock at night on December 8, 1909 it seemed like deja vu. Just as in 1907, smoke filled the Star Bargain House, and again the cause was believed to be faulty wiring. [1,2] This time, a night watchman discovered clouds of smoke in the basement and had difficulty finding his way back out through the blackness to sound the alarm. [3] Again, all Kalamazoo's fire crews sped to the site and both Grand Rapids and Battle Creek fire departments were put on notice. [2]

Considering that in 1907 everything had turned out alright (no lives lost and most damage being cosmetic) it wouldn't be terribly surprising if everyone had the thought in their heads that this time would turn out the same as before. Last time they extinguished the fire without assistance from other cities. [1] No buildings had actually been destroyed, though goods had been lost and damaged. [1] But surely, if they could save the Burdick once, they could do so again.

Only this time was different. The firefighters suffered from low water pressure. [2] The largest fire engine was in the shop being repaired. [2] The wind was blowing in just the wrong way. [2] The temperature was below zero. [2] And then, this time, the fire reached the Arcade. [2] With the perfect source of oxygen to fuel the flames, the result was almost a foregone conclusion. This time there was no hope of saving the Burdick Hotel. 

In Burdick Hotel Heroine you can read about how one of my relatives played a role in evacuating the Burdick.
To see a photograph of the Arcade and learn more about the hotel read the article on the Kalamazoo Public Library website.

  1. “Firemen Control Fire; Avert A Conflagration,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 8 March 1907, page 3, column 1-5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 7 December 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “Loss Near $500,000; Hotel May Rebuild: Burdick Destroyed; Whole Block Is Gutted By Flames,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 1, column 1-5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “Night Watchman Owens Risks His Life For Duty,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 6, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

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