Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fire Threatens Orpheum

Oct. 15, 1907
Los Angeles

On a rainy night in Los Angeles, a fire broke out in the four-story brick office building at 235 S. Spring St. housing the Orpheum Theater and the Elks Hall, which was engulfed in panic as visitors at a Japanese festival rushed for the exits. The second-floor hallways were so jammed that members of the Elks Club rushed to the rear of the building to use the fire escapes.

At Orpheum, on the floor above the Elks Club, veteran actress Minnie Seligman calmly made the smoke and the sound of fire engines part of her skit. Rushing offstage for a moment, she returned covered with soot and announced: “Oh the gasoline stove exploded. It will break up housekeeping for good!”

The audience was dismissed and except for a few people in the rear who called “fire!” theatergoers remained calm. After leaving the building, they stood across the street in a light rain to watch.

The Times noted that the toll could have been much worse. “Had the firemen allowed the flames to get through the ceiling of the [first-floor] store and get a hold in Elks Hall they would have swept along the second floor, cutting off the exit of the Orpheum gallery and might have made their way through that gallery.”

Assistant Fire Chief O’Donnell cut his hands and knees crawling into the jewelry store below the Elks Club, where the fire apparently started in the faulty wiring of an electric motor. He continued to fight the fire and only later was treated at the Receiving Hospital.

Two engine companies rushing to the fire also suffered accidents. One of the horses pulling an engine slipped while turning from 1st Street onto Spring and was dragged for some distance, nearly overturning the fire engine. Another horse pulling an engine was badly cut when it fell on the slippery pavement at 3rd Street and Spring.

The jewelry store, an optical shop and a clothing store reported significant smoke damage and a cafe in the basement suffered water damage.

Bonus facts: First Orpheum Theater--Main and 1st Street.
Second Orpheum Theater--229-235 S. Spring St. Renamed the Lyceum, demolished in 1941.
Third Orpheum Theater--630-636 S. Broadway. Renamed the Palace.
Fourth Orpheum Theater--842-844 S. Broadway.



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