Playa del Rey, CA Children Home Fire, June 1924

Playa del Rey CA  School was building on right.jpg



Los Angeles, June 1. -- (AP) -- Ashes of the Hope Development school for sub-normal children at Playa del Rey, 18 miles from here on the ocean beach, today yielded remains of 23 persons as the result of a tragic fire last night.
Eighteen others, inmates of the school, are in a precarious condition at St. Catherine's hospital in Santa Monica, a few miles away. The holocaust victims ranged in years from four to 48.
The three-story structure, reclaimed from the abandoned building of an old cafe in the deserted pleasure resort town of many years ago, was declared by investigators to have been a fire trap isolated from any protection. All that remains of it is a brick chimney and twisted iron pipes and ashes.
About 40 girls were housed within the institution when flames burst out at 8:30 last night. In addition there were in the old building the matron, MRS. J. C. THOMAS, and WILFRED RINGER, 14-year-old adopted son of the proprietor, MRS. MARY E. JACOBS. The matron and the boy perished.
A family of beach picknickers observed the flames and sounded the alarm. Before the fire apparatus could arrive from Venice, the nearest town, the building was a mass of uncontrollable flames.
One of the first rescue squads to arrive was a staff of nurses from St. Catherine's hospital in Santa Monica. They were instrumental in rescuing 18 children, all of whom today were suffering from fumes and whose lives were in the balance. Six children were treated for minor injuries.
The Dead:
FRANCES BATTALI, of Hawthorne, a suburb.
FRANCES BRAZELTON, 23, daughter of F. L. Brazelton, Hawthorne.
BLANCHE BUTCHER, 15, daughter of Mrs. Josephine Butcher, Long Beach.
RAE COHN, 12, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. Harry Cohn, Seattle.
ROSE CORNFELDT, 26, daughter of two vaudeville artists; parents' names still unavailable early tonight.
DOROTHY DAVIS, 17, daughter of L. L. Davis, Los Angeles.
HELEN FENTON, 19, Los Angeles.
RUTH HEIMAN, 13, daughter of Mrs. J. Heiman, Venice.
VERA MAY HOLBROOK, 17, daughter of Mrs. Hilda Holbrook, Los Angeles.
JANE KERR, 9, daughter of Dr. A. N. Kerr, Arrowhead Hospital, Arrowhead.
EVELYN KLEIN, 11, Venice.
LOIS LYNN, 5, daughter of Leah L. Lynn, Los Angeles.
EDNA McEVOR, 16, Ocean Park.
BETTY RAND, 22, sister of Chester and Alice Rand, Chicago and Boston.
WILFRED RINGER (JACOBS), 14, adopted son of MRS. MARY JACOBS, proprietor of the school.
EVELYN RUSS, daughter of Earl D. Russ, Los Angeles.
EVELYN SCHURMAN, 20, San Francisco.
THELMA SHERMAN, 20, daughter of Mrs. H. B. Sherman, Redondo.
EVELYN SPARKS, 13, daughter of C. P. Sparks, Humboldt, Ariz.
EDNA MAY VANN, 14, daughter of A. L. Vann, Los Angeles.
MRS. DREW THOMAS, 48, head matron of the school, formerly of Columbus, O.
According to witnesses to blaze, the children were trapped by barred doors and locked windows and many of the inmates made their escape by jumping from the second story of the three-story building after the windows had been broken.
Other children were thrown bodily from the windows by the rescuers.
A graphic word picture of rescue work was given by WALTER CURTIS, Los Angeles, who with members of his family were on the beach 200 yards from the building when the fire broke out.
His story follows:
"The first I knew about it was when I heard a man at an oil station blowing a small police whistle. I looked up and saw a big crowd around the building. I ran toward the building and toward a big heavy door on the first floor. It was closed and locked. Together with another man I threw my weight against it. We couldn't budge it. Then we tried some windows. They were locked. We couldn't get any of them open. I broke in the first window I came to. I looked in the room but could see nothing. I ran to another window and broke it in. There was nothing there. I broke in several other windows the same way. There was not a sound of any one in the building."
"I called out but received no reply. I broke into another window where I heard children screaming at the far end of the hall. I climbed through the window by my hands and knees into a dense cloud of smoke. It was dark and I couldn't see a thing. I stumbled over a child. I grabbed her by the leg and carried her to the window where someone took her and I went back for others."
"I could hear them screaming frightfully now. THey seemed dazed and apparently didn't know what they were doing. They seemed to be fighting among themselves."
"The nex thing I knew I grabbed a woman and pushed her through a window. Then I carried a couple more children to those waiting outside. Next I seized another woman who cried out 'Don't take me save the children!' I told her not to start an argument and shoved her through the window."
"Soon I felt myself giving in and felt as if I were losing consciousness. I crawled to the window. They helped me out and some one else took my place inside. The others then took turns going in."
The fire, the origin of which has not been determined, was discovered soon after the girls retired. Many of the children who ranged in age from 5 to 18 years, were still in their beds in the dormitory when the first fire apparatus arrived on the scene and several of them died in their beds.
Two separate investigations of the blaze were launched tonight by county and state authorities.
Officials of the state board of charities and corrections in announcing plans to probe the circumstances surrounding the tragedy declared that they had some time ago refused to renew their endowment of the school on the ground that it was a fire trap. District Attorney Asa Keyes promised that other business in his office would be sidetracked to make way for an immediate and thorough inquiry into the possibility that criminal negligence or violation of state or county laws contributed to the disaster, andhe added that he would ask the county grand jury to act without delary.
Meanwhile at Venice, a few miles from the scene of the blaze, the charred and disfigured bodies of the dead were being prepared for burial.
The Hope Development school, an old frame structure of three stories that once house a beach resort hotel and cafe, stood on the ocean front and a brisk wind whipped in from the sea as the doors and windows were locked about 8 o'clock last night and the 38 girls inmates of the school all mental defectives, lay down to sleep on their dormitory cots.
How the fire started remains a mystery. MRS. LOLA MAY RADENMAYER, a matron in the place, said she was reading in her room about 8:30 or 9 o'clock, when she felt a tingling sensation in her throat and head a strange whistling sound "that seemed to be almost like a shriek."
She ran to the door, opened it and was confronted by mounting smoke and flames. Girls in the dormitory began screaming. She picked up one little child who was paralyzed on the ground floor. Without pausing to unlock it, she kicked out the glass helped the children who had followed her to escape, through the opening, then crawled out after them. Firemen and volunteer rescuers had arrived by this time. Among the first to reach the blazing structure were several nurses from St. Catherines' hospital, who helped girls through windows smashed by the firemen and undoubtedly saved the lives of many of the 18 rescued inmates with their quickly administered first aid to those who were suffering from burns or suffocation.

Nevada State Journal Reno 1924-06-02