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Notable Fires:

Kimball Manufacturing Company
September 2, 1885
Box 63 - No. E. corner Harrison and Fourth

In 1885 if an alarm is received from the original alarm box, it shall be considered a General Alarm

September 2, 1885; Station 63; time, 8:44 o'clock p. M., a fire was discovered in the large four-story frame building on the southeast corner of Fourth and Bryant streets, and extending on Fourth street 175 feet, and known as the Kimball Manufacturing Company's building, occupied as a wagon and furniture manufactory. The building contained a large quantity of very dry lumber, paints, oils, turpentine and other inflammable material. The fire started in the boiler room on the ground floor, and spread with great rapidity, and extended to a number of dwellings on Bryant and Silver streets. The district force not being sufficient, a second alarm was sounded for additional engines. The fire was under control in three hours, and required the services of eleven engines, four hose companies and three truck companies. Estimated loss, $116,000.

The Loss Estimated in the Neighborhood of $100,000, and Only Partially Insured— Incidents of the Fire.

1885 September 3

Shortly before 9 o'clock last evening, Officer Brodrick discovered one of the hottest fires of the year in the old Kimball Manufacturing Company's extensive building on Fourth street, between Silver and Bryant, and turned in an alarm from box 63. The flames spread so rapidly, however, that the district engines were soon unable to check their spread, and at the request of the engineer in charge Brodrick made the alarm a general one by turning in the box again. By the time the increased force bad reached the ground, the heat from the huge bank of fire was such as to cause the men to work at a great disadvantage, and the result was that about two-fifths of a block of property was totally destroyed. The Kimball Works, as they have always been known, although the lease has been owned by Eugene Soule for some time, are a relic of the speculative days of W. C. Ralston, that gentleman having erected and stocked the building on a leased lot, now owned by W. G. Crandall, from whom Mr. Soule leases. The building was a huge L-shaped factory affair, with its main front on Fourth street, and another smaller one on Bryant. Its depth from Fourth street was about 250 feet, and it occupied all of the space between Silver and Bryant with the exception of the interior of the L's triangle, which was filled by A. H. Liebenberg's grocery, on the northeast corner of Bryant wad Fourth streets.


Although Mr. Soule had the entire building and conducted an immense manufacturing business, the major portion of the premises was sub-let to other tenants, of whom there were at least a dozen, engaged in manufactures to a greater or lees extent. The manufactures were of all kinds, and varied from washboards and cheese-boxes to pianos and threshing-machines, and from baby wagons to buggies and railroad cars. The premises contained twelve furnaces of various sizes, but the power for the entire building was furnished by a huge engine located near the Bryant-street entrance. The accounts of those earliest on the scene generally credit this engine with being the starting-point of the fire, but the spread of the flames was so rapid that their ideas were pretty thoroughly confused, end the origin may have been in some other portion of the building. At the outbreak, the air was quite calm and the flames climbed to an immense height, sending up huge cinders and lively sparks, that added to a scene of terrible beauty seldom equaled by any artificial pyrotechnical display. The glare lighted up the adjacent streets for blocks around, and attracted thousands of sightseers, who were, however, kept fairly in check by the ropes spread by a large force of police under Sergeant Nichols. In less than ten minutes


And a lively breeze springing up from the west, the Fire Department had all it could do to prevent a spread down the block, the remainder of which is almost exclusively devoted to dwellings, and across to the south side of Bryant street. In the latter locality, and also on the west side of Fourth street, fresh fixes were continually breaking oat from the heat alone, without - actual contact with flames or cinders, and two lines of hose were kept constantly busy in subduing them. Four frame structures of little importance, nearest the corner of Fourth and Bryant, were badly scorched and sustained damage amounting to two or three hundred dollars from the violence of the streams poured on them. On Silver street the same scenes were enacted, and several buildings were completely gutted, the narrowness of the thoroughfare not affording the same protection as did the wider Bryant street. For blocks around, and especially to the east, south and north, the occupants of buildings were kept busy with garden hose and bucket lines, quelling incipient blazes that threatened to clean out the entire district to Rincon Hill if allowed to gather headway. The burning of Soule's place was the main centre of attraction and danger, and a near approach to it was barred by the intense heat and the constant tumbling of burned timbers.


Of the furnaces toppled over one after the other, the heavy masses of brick and mortar sending huge clouds of black ashes and sparks into the air, while whole sections went flying into the streets, to the imminent danger of firemen and spectators. On the top floor, in the finishing department, were half a dozen heavy horse-cars and as many trucks and wagons, all finished and ready for delivery, and each repeated the performance of the furnace chimneys as it crushed through the flame-weakened floors into the seething beds of fire below. Costly and intricate machines, need in the various factories, melted away, and whole warerooms of stock of innumerable kinds were chewed up like wax. The firemen struggled like pigmies with a giant as long as a wall was left standing, or a mass of flooring or timber was left for the fire to feed upon, and over an hour elapsed before they saw any prospect of a cessation from their labors. In this time the factory was reduced to a heap of burning timbers, Liebenberg'e fine grocery had entirely disappeared, and the fire was making slow progress among the dwellings adjoining the factory and fronting on Silver and Bryant streets, when a cessation of the danger on the opposite sides of these streets left the pipemen that had been at work there free to attack the pathway of the spread. These comparatively fresh forces then relieved the scorched and exhausted men that had been bearing the brunt of the battle, and their vigorous onslaught beat down the flames that were eating into the dwellings, and half an hour later


On Bryant street, adjoining the factory on the east were two double two-story dwellings owned by John Riley, and numbered 566, 566 1/2 and 563. Mr. Riley and John Greenlaw occupied Nos. 568 and 566 1/2 with their families, and Mr. Soule and his family occupied No. 566. These buildings were totally destroyed, and the loss is covered by insurance with the exception of the furniture and personal property of the inmates, but little of which was saved. Adjoining, at 564 and 56 1/2, also a double two-story frame, lived Mrs. Ryan and a number of sub-tenants. This property was owned by Samuel Armstrong, and also proved a total loss. Mrs. Ayers lived at No. 562, and the building was owned by a Mrs. Landers, who also owned No. 560. The first-mentioned number cannot be rebuilt, and the second is so badly damaged that it is hardly worth repairing. Three other low two-story cottages were somewhat damaged by fire in the rear and water throughout, but they can be repaired, and the most of the contents were saved. Altogether, about fourteen families were turned into the street by the fire in this section, but they were mostly sub-tenants, and in the excitement a farther enumeration was impossible.


Silver street, on which thoroughfare the north side of the carriage factory fronted, resembled a storehouse. Furniture of every description, from pianos up to toilet sets, were piled up in the middle of the street from curb to curb. Numerous families were out guarding their household effects and consoling each other over their losses. The four frame buildings on the south side of Silver street, situated next to the carriage factory, were badly burned. The house of William Hunt, No. 165, was totally burned, although most of the furniture was saved. Mrs. William Stuart, living at No. 164, had both her arms badly burned while endeavoring to save her furniture. The two-story house, No. 168 Silver street, was badly burned in the front, and the place was completely gutted. The building was occupied on the upper floor by A. E. Dutton, a compositor on the Call, and Joseph Sullivan. Their furniture was not insured. No. 174 was occupied by Robert Ennis, and all his effects were completely burned. Nothing escaped the ravages of the flames, save an oil painting of St. Joseph, with the infant Jesus in his arms, which was not injured a particle. It was pronounced a miracle by the whole neighborhood that it should have been preserved when nearly everything else perished. Nos. 164 and 166 were burned, only the beams surviving the flames. The buildings were owned by Captain Mackenzie and occupied by M. E. McGowan. - No insurance. Three unoccupied houses on the south side of the street were also badly burned. At one time it seemed as though the building on the northeast corner of Fourth and Silver streets could not be saved. The south side of the structure became enveloped in flames, only to be extinguished by a well-directed stream of water, which continued to play upon it until the fire abated. The ground floor of the place was occupied as a saloon, most of the stock of which was ruined. A man named Schmidt occupied the top story as a dwelling, and the place was completely gutted.


When the fire was nearly extinguished Mrs. Roberts, living at 165 Silver street, returned from the Fair and found that her eight-year-old daughter, whom she had left in the house, was missing. She became nearly frantic with grief, and ran up and down the middle of the street, screaming and yelling, in the vain endeavor to find her child. She was finally quieted by being told that the youngster was safe in a neighbor's house.


Out of the factory building only a few buggies and light, portable articles on the lower floor were saved by the exertions of Mr. Soule's employees, many of whom reside in the immediate vicinity. That gentleman found it impossible to make any approximate estimate of his loss last evening, but the undesirability of such risks on the part of insurance companies allowed him to assert that the insurance would not cover over 45 per cent, of his suffering. His stock included an immense assortment of hardwood and carriage materials, besides fine paneling and veneering for cars and furniture and carriages, of which there were a large number in the finishing room on the top floor, in various stages of completion. His foreman estimated that $60,000 would be necessary to replace the machinery and stock. Among the other dozen or more manufacturers in the building were : Cuff & Dewey, engaged in making pianos and fine coffins ; Richard Herring, furniture ; the Hunter Edge Tool Company ; Armes & Dallam, coopers and washing machine manufacturers ; George M. Purcell, washing-machines, and the Kohler Furniture Manufacturing Company. Besides these there were several smaller firms engaged in various workings of woods and metals, whose names and losses could not be ascertained. Each occupied separate sections and floors, with the exception of Soule, whose works were scattered over the entire building. A rough guess at the total loss, by several experts, locates it, in round figures, at not far from $100,000.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 39, Number 12956, 3 September 1885 — THE FIRE FIEND.

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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