Cleveland, OH Park Theatre Explosion And Fire, Jan 1884

Cleveland OH Public Square 1888.jpg




Cleveland, Ohio, Jan. 5. -- On Oct. 22 the Park Theatre, owned by HENRY WICK and under the management of GUS HARTZ, the prestidigitator, was formally opened by Rhea in the "School for Scandal." Tonight it is four empty walls, with stage, auditorium, galleries, and properties in a heap of ruins in the basement. The fire alarm was sounded this morning at 8:15. The janitor of the building went into the gas meter room with a lighted torch. There had been a leakage and the room was full of gas. As soon as the door was opened there was a terrific explosion. The man was blown 16 feet and badly bruised, and a sheet of flame rushed out and caught upon the light woodwork all about. Several employes who were at work near by were knocked over by the force of the explosion. The engineer, who was among them, immediately rushed for the pumps and set them going and made an effort to fight the flames. It was of no avail, as by this time the stage, the scenery, and the borders were all ablaze. In an incredibly short time the fire had gained such headway as to drive every one from the building. A general alarm had by this time been sounded and half a dozen engines were on hand and as soon as possible almost the entire department was present and at work.
The cold stood on the edge of zero, and the water, as soon as it touched the walls or ground froze as it fell. Before 9 o'clock it was generally considered that the theatre must go, and attention was turned to the buildings close by. The front of the theatre was on the Public square, across the alley to the right was the three-story stone Court house, and close to the left was the First Presbyterian Church, also of stone. In the rear was an eating house in a two-story brick building. The flames poured from the third and fourth story windows of the theatre and almost touched the Court house, and it was only by the greatest efforts that the latter building was saved with slight damage. The church fared worse, and was soon on fire, one of the towers being all ablaze. The building was saved, but was left almost a total wreck within. It was noon before the fire either in the church or theatre was in such a shape that it could be counted as under complete control.
The front and side walls and front offices in the theatre building were left standing, and are in such shape as possibly to be used without taking down, but the rear wall is partly gone, falling upon the coffee house, which was seriously damaged. The entire inside of the church and theatre is a mass of ruins, charred and blackened and coated over with ice. The engines were playing as late as 4 o'clock. A number of firemen were slightly burned and frost bitten, but there was no damage to limb or loss of life.
The theatre cost $150,000. There was an insurance upon the building, aside from the theatre part, for $70,000, and the theatre part for $30,000 or $40,000. There was $37,000 on the church building and $7,000 on the organ and furniture. The loss is fully covered, and the leading members of the church say that they will repair it as soon as possible.
The theatre will probably be rebuilt but not in time to save any of the engagements for this season. Among those were CLARA MORRIS, IRVING, the ABBOTT Opera Company, the GEISTINGER Opera Company, MODJESKA, RHEA, and a dozen others. The ADAMS Humpty Dumpty Company has been playing the Park Theatre this week, and had its property in the theatre, on which there was no insurance. It was all destroyed. This will compel the company to cancel their engagements far in the future, as it will be a long time before the trick properties, scenery, costumes, &c., can be reconstructed. The band lose all their instruments and the performers their wardrobe. The principal members of the company will be the heaviest losers. The LESLIE brothers, LOUIS and FRED, and the MARTINETTI sisters, BELLE and PAULINE, will lose $1,000 on their personal property and stage wardrobe, with no insurance. GEORGE BERNADOE will lose $100, with no insurance; MRS. TISSOT, $1,000, with $125 insurance; WILLIAM EUNICE, $400, with no insurance; MR. and MRS. ADAMS will be the heaviest losers among the company, but their exact loss could not be determined. Manager HARTZ will be a heavy loser not only from the loss of the business he had been so long getting in shape, but all the trick and magic apparatus which he has been collecting for years, and which he values at $15,000, was in the basement of the theatre and was destroyed. There was no insurance on it, as it hd just been moved in for storage.
The Park Theatre was not large, but was handsome in arrangement and decoration. It could seat from 1,200 to 1,400 persons, and was modeled after the Casino, of New York. Its main dimensions were as follows: Height of interior, exclusive of dome, 54 feet; dome, 16 feet. It was 66 feet wide, with 64 feet from the foot-lights to the rear wall. The stage measured 40 feet deep by 80' wide and the rigging loft was 66 feet high. It had two balconies and a fire proof curtain, which would undoubtedly have saved the most of the building had it been instantly lowered. The interior decoration was Moorish, and was beautiful, the boxes and stage front being elegantly decorated. The seats were well arranged, although somewhat crowded. It was thought the theatre was fire-proof, but today's experience has shown that that claim was all a sham. The managers of the Academy of Music and the Euclid Avenue Opera house will probably tender Manager HARTZ and his employes a benefit next week.

The New York Times New York 1884-01-06