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Submitted by Frank Borden • Director of Operations, LAFDHS


LAFD HISTORY - GREAT FIRES L.A. FIREMEN HAVE FOUGHT: THE BRENNAN HOTEL


Researched by FRED S. ALLEN for a story in the Grapevine 1963 While this fire came to be known as the


“Hotel Brennan” fire, the fire originated and did most of its damage in the grade floor and basement portion occupied by the Los Angeles Wallpaper and Paint Company.


In the January 24, 1913, issue of the


Los Angeles Examiner appeared a most dra- matic account of this incident written by an unknown staff writer. For the enjoyment of our GRAPEVINE readers, the Examiner story is reprinted just as it appeared to the citizens of Los Angeles.


Los Angeles Examiner January 24, 1913


Fed by paints, oils and wallpaper of the


stock of the Los Angeles Wallpaper and Paint Company, at 529 South Main street, a fire, discovered shortly before 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, swept from top to bottom of the five- story building with the fierceness of flames in a furnace, inflicting a loss of about $100,000 and furnishing a thrilling spectacle to many thousands of persons during the stubborn fight which lasted till nightfall before the firemen had conquered. The fire started in the rear part of the ground floor of the paint company’s store, but the cause of it is not known. As soon as Chief Eley arrived he saw the seriousness of the menace and a second and a third alarm followed in rapid succession, until all of the fire companies of the central portion of the city were massed in the struggle to keep the flames within the four walls and save what could be saved from the burning building. Fire Chief Eley, but lately risen from a


sick bed, led his men with persistent courage, forcing his way again and again into the gas- choked basement and the first floor, until a final venture into the death tap almost cost him his life.


An explosion of turpentine casks had


thrown a group of firemen out through a base- ment entrance and had covered another group with a mass of wallpaper from shattered shelv- ing. Immediately following the rescue of these men, just before 5 o’clock, Chief Eley, who had already fainted twice from exertion and expo- sure to choking fumes, made his way from the


rear alley forward through the basement, de- termined to learn personally if there were other stocks of explosive oils that would endanger the lives of his firemen. Presently the absence of the chief was


noticed, and a dozen firemen began a frantic search for him. Firemen J. Reyes of Engine Company No.5 came upon the chief, lying un- conscious on the basement floor. Reyes picked Chief Eley up and carried him up a ladder through the sidewalk door. Eley was hurried to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan, un- conscious and in a serious condition. He was treated with oxygen, and after an hour recov- ered consciousness. J. Reyes, later retired from the LAFD as a Captain, stated that Chief Eley tripped and fell through an open shipping hatch into nine feet of hot water and turpentine in the base- ment. Reyes left his company and entered the hot water and rescued the chief swimming to the hatch opening where Eley was lifted out of the water with a pike pole. Reyes himself be- came extremely ill from inhaling the turpentine fumes and the hot water he swallowed making the rescue. However, he was not taken to the hospital or listed among those treated. Accord- ing to Capt. Reyes, as he recalls the incident, Assistant Chief O’Donnell threatened to dis- miss Reyes for leaving his company, but Capt. Stephen Queirolo, a natural leader during those early days, threatened to leave the job if Reyes was penalized for his bravery, so the matter was dropped. Reyes received no recog- nition for his act.) The value of stock of the paint com-


pany is placed at $60,000. It is a total loss. The furniture of


the Bren-


nan was worth about $15,000, and it is almost entirely


de-


stroyed by the fire and water. The building, owned by Gus- tave Brenner of San Francisco,


March 2017 • 53


is estimated to have been worth about $75,000, and half of that is the estimate of loss. None of the walls fell. Wing’s Cafe, a chop suey place, which occupied one of the ground floor rooms adjacent to the paint company, suffered a loss of about $5,000. From 2 o’clock until after 6, Main street


and Fifth and Sixth streets were blocked to traf- fic. Masses of spectators were packed against the ropes at the street corners, and thousands more watched the fire from the roofs of the Kerkoff, Central, Pacific Electric, Security and other tall buildings in the vicinity. A portion of the matinee audience at the Burbank theater had reached the house before the streets were closed, and most of them sat through the play, in ignorance of the thrilling scenes in real life that were being enacted just on the other side of the swinging doors. The Optic theater, next door to the paint store, was filled with an au- dience watching the moving pictures when the fire was discovered. The manager announced that an accident to the film mechanism com- pelled a suspension of the entertainment, and the theater was emptied without confusion.


GALLANT FIREMEN KISSED Rehearsal was on at the Century the-


ater, just north of the burning building. The stage was drenched with water and the rehears- al and evening performance were abandoned. The chorus girls, in their makeup, watched the fire, and, in their enthusiasm over the daring shown by the firemen, rewarded some of them with kisses as they came out of the smoke- filled storerooms for breathing spells. There


The Brennan Hotel Fire,1913


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