San Rafael, CA Downtown Fire, July 1957

San Rafael 4th Street circa 1956 Fourth Street FIre Rages



San Rafael, July 30 -- Wind-whipped flames destroyed 19 business establishments in downtown San Rafael last night in the worst property loss in the city's history.
Damage is estimated at more than a million dollars.
Heat from the raging blaze was so intense that steel street llight poles were bent like molten candles.
The fire raged down both sides of Fourth St., in the main business section, between D and E Streets.
Landmark Razed.
More than 250 firefighters and 50 pieces of equipment from throughout Marin County, military establishments, and San Francisco converged to battle the blaze.
No one was seriously injured.
The 80 year old Odd Fellows Hall, a two-story landmark here throughout the memory of older residents, was destroyed as the flames raged over the area.
Persons living in a three-square block area in the Fourth St. section were ordered out of their homes as police and firemen sent out a general alarm alerting the entire city.
The California Highway Patrol closed U.S. Highway 101 as the city's streets became jammed with traffic.
Power lines fell early in the blaze, blacking out six business blocks around the fire area.
The fire was under control at 9:15 p.m., but firemen stayed at the scene throughout the night.
Started In Barn.
The fire was reported at 7:45 p.m. by MRS. ONA KROMREL, who lives in an apartment at 1438 Fourth St. She said she ran outside when she smelled smoke and saw an old barn behind BROWN'S Furniture Store "go whoosh" when it was covered with flames.
MRS. KROMREL led an 83-year-old tenant, MRS. JOSEPHINE LAIR, to safety and then assisted MRS. SHIRLEY HILDEBRANDT, wife of Airman KENNETH HILDEBRANDT, and the couple's two small children to leave. The airman was on duty at Hamilton Air Force Base.
As she left the building for the final time, fire exploded in AYERS Paint Shop on the ground floor.
A stiff wind kept the fire racing ahead of efforts of firemen to contain it.
Huge fountains of fire leaped into the air giving a fiery show to residents throughout the area. Embers started some 30 roof fires. They were quickly extinguished.
Roof Fires Spread.
One house was destroyed. It was that of MRS. THERESA RONAN, a deputy county tax collector, at 1011 D St. MRS. RONAN'S daughter, MRS. DOLORES THORNHILL, and her son, RONAN, 9, escaped.
Both KEATON'S Mortuary at fifth and E streets and that of HARRY WILLIAMS at Third and D Streets evacuated bodies.
Some canaries and parakeets were freed when a Chinese cook, ART CHONG, of 717 B. Street, ran through the smoke to kick in the windows of the Happy Pet Shop.
City Councilman LOUIS BAAR was at the Elks Club with Dist. Atty. WILLIAM O. WEISSICH.
Narrow Escape.
"When we heard the siren we dashed out and looked down the street," BAAR said. "All we could see was one big mess. It was already uncontrollable."
"I was terrified to see a man, his arms loaded with books, come out of the Christian Science reading room, with flames almost on his back."
The P. G. & E. Building at the corner of Fourth and E Streets escaped the flames, although windows were cracked by the heat. Employees removed the records.
The business establishments burned out included a knitting shop, LEONARDI Brothers Upholstering, the paint company, BROWN Furniture Co., Cottage Book Shop, JOHNSON'S Furniture Store, PHILLIPS Florists, CIVILETTI Sewing Machine Shop, the pet shop, Western Union offices, Christian Science Reading Room, MORWEAR Paint Co., ANTHONY Beauty Salon, ED'S Auto Parts, Vari Mart, MARIN Orthopedic Co., LES OLIVER'S Paint Shop, a skin diving equipment concern, and a title company.
Many persons in the area moved furniture, TV sets, clothing, and other belongings outside to be ready to evacuate should the flames spread to the residential area.
Helpers Lauded.
Fire Chief C. M. JOHANSON, who directed the small army of firefighters, said the ready response of other departments to the call for aid kept the fire from spreading east to the courthouse area.
"Most of the buildings in the area were from 50 to 75 years old," he said.
Three firemen suffered minor injuries and volunteers received first aid for cinders in their eyes.
Fire Commissioner HARRY M. WILLIAMS declared "this is the worst fire in the history of San Rafael."
Fire Marchal VIRGILIE CHEDA said the damage may exceed $1,000,000.

Oakland Tribune California 1957-07-30


There was an "Ed's Auto", on

There was an "Ed's Auto", on Fourth St., across from Grand Auto. Both stores were there eell into the 1970's, and possibly the 1980's.

Eds auto

Eds was located after the fire across from George's pool hall a few doors north towards the old 881 club. My dad was a San Anselmo fireman and I remember my mom taking us to check on my dds well being. I saw the bent light poles and the flames. I was nine at the time

Yes. Ed's Auto Parts moved

Yes. Ed's Auto Parts moved to Fourth and Cijos and was named Ed's Auto Supply. The store closed in 1994.

Eds auto

They were at 4th and cijos across from Grand auto

1957 Fire in Downtown San Rafael

My family was staying in a hotel near the fire when it the inferno erupted. I was only 5 years old but remember that it was so hot from the flames that the parking meters were exploding and people were trying to scoop up the hot coins as the emergency crews worked nearby.

It moved to 4th and Cijos,

It moved to 4th and Cijos, on the SE corner, across from Merrill's drugstore. It was there until the mid-90's when Grand Auto opened in the old Merrill's, and Kragen opened block south on 3rd Street. Ed's got squeezed out and there hasn't been a business in that location since. As most of the block is vacant too, I'm sure the rent is cheap.

eds auto

ed's moved to the oter end of 4th street--kitty corner to georges bar and across the street from the old grand auto.

thank you

you are most welcome. and I want to thank you and others for sharing the stories which show how lives were affected.

Ed's Auto Parts

Does anyone know where Ed's Auto Parts moved to following the San Rafael fire of 1957?

San Rafael fire

Thank you for posting this!

My grandparents, Charles and Ellen Hancock, lost their business in the fire. They owned the Happy Pet Shop. I was always afraid to ask what happened to the poor creatures inside. Thank you for this information:

"Some canaries and parakeets were freed when a Chinese cook, ART CHONG, of 717 B. Street, ran through the smoke to kick in the windows of the Happy Pet Shop."

I was only five at the time it happened, but I had spent plenty of time in the pet shop and loved it, and still remember being fascinated watching my grandfather grind the horse meat for his regular customers.

My grandparents were either uninsured or underinsured, and I think their money was in the shop safe, which got so hot that only melted together coin survived. That's what I was told. They were age 66 and 59 when they lost the business, and had nothing with which to start over. They lived on slender means for the next thirty years.

My grandfather had been a civil engineer before owning the pet shop. After the fire, he gardened and kept the house. My grandmother immigrated to Marin after a poor childhood in Ireland, and worked hard to succeed here. After the shop burned, she went to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy family in Kentfield, a job she kept for a decade or more. I know it hurt her to lose her identity as proud independent business owner. She still had the memory of her achievement, but the dream was over.

This historic fire very much changed the lives of my family.