Downtown Fire Destroys $150,000 Worth of Merchandise

     On January 21, 1904, 33-year-old Private Watchman Martin Ryan was touring the 717-719 Lucas Avenue warehouse, when he discovered a fire on the third floor.  Ryan ran to notify the St. Louis Fire Department.  While the fire department firefighters responded almost immediately, the fire spread through the warehouse quickly.  The St. Louis firefighters arrived as the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors were fully engulfed.

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Artist Rendering of Fire by B. Widman in the February 5, 1902 edition of the St. Louis Republic

     The warehouse housed wholesale manufacturers focused on garments and dry goods.  The fire destroyed almost all the stock on the upper floors while water damage from fighting the fire destroyed the merchandise on the lower floors and basement.  Before the fire was extinguished, eighteen St. Louis Fire Department Companies would help contain the fire.

     Thanks to the quick action of the St. Louis firefighters, the fire was contained to 717-719 Lucas Avenue.  The warehouse was located amongst a bunch of other warehouses.  If the fire had spread, it may have rivaled the Great Fire of 1849, which burned 15 blocks of Downtown St. Louis.  St. Louis buildings were built with brick instead of wood after this fire.

     The firefighters needed every hydrant within five blocks of  the fire, so all the streetcar lines were shut down until the fire was out.  The fire hoses had to be stretched across the streetcar lines to reach the Lucas Avenue warehouse.

     St. Louis Fire Chief Swingley was on scene and supervised the suppression effort.  The fire was put out but the roof collapsed prior to it dying out.  Almost the entire stock of the Lucas Avenue warehouse was lost.

     Six firms had stock in the building.  Two linen companies, Julius Glaser and Company and the Linen Company were on the first floor.  The St. Louis Pants Manufacturing Company occupied the second and sixth floors.  The Royal Skirt Manufacturing Company was on the third floor.  Agatstein Shirt Company was located on the fourth floor.  Boam Brothers and Company occupied the fifth floor.

     The adjacent building at 713-715 Lucas Avenue sufered some water and smoke damage but the fire did not spread.   The building across the street from 715-717 Lucas Avenue also had some windows broken out by a hose that got away from some firemen.  Besides breaking the window, it gave the people below the buildings a good soaking.

     Cold January temperatures did not assist the firefighting.  Often buildings would collapse during winter firefighting due to the weight of the ice accumulating on the buildings.

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Runs from the 1849 St. Louis Fire by Thomas Easterly

     The hero who probably saved all the adjacent buildings met a tragic end.  On February 4, 1928, Martin Ryan was killed when his firearm fell and struck the floor.  The dropped gun fired and struck him in the head killing him.

     Prior to 1973, when safety improvements made it impossible to fire a gun without pulling the trigger, guns could fire when dropped.  Ryan, born on August 26, 1871, was 56 years old.

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