Thursday, February 28, 2019

Recalling What Was

On Monday, at 3:00 p.m., at City Hall, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment--i.e., the mayor, the treasurer, and the Common Council president--will be opening the sealed bids for 427 Warren Street, the building that was until two years ago the headquarters of the Hudson Police Department.  

The existence of this mid-20th-century building in a block of 19th-century buildings has often prompted Gossips to wonder what was there before, and the impending sale of the building provides the occasion for seeking the answer. 

The quest began with the photographs of Howard Gibson, made available online by Bruce Bohnsack. Gibson took several pictures of the fire, including some very striking ones of the aftermath of the fire. The first picture shows the building that stood at 427 Warren Street. provided the date of the fire: February 1951. The search next took me to the invaluable database of old newspapers, where I discovered that the fire occurred on Thursday, February 8, and was front-page news the next day for both the Times Union and Knickerbocker News. The latter accompanied its coverage of the fire with this photograph by Howard Gibson.

A transcription of the article from Knickbocker News follows.

Five business and apartment buildings in down town Hudson were destroyed by fire yesterday, leaving 18 families homeless. Damage was estimated at more than $300,000. Five firemen suffered smoke poisoning and frost bite.
Firemen from Hudson and four nearby communities battled the blaze for six hours before bringing it under control about 9 p.m. This afternoon one Hudson engine was still at the scene pouring water on the smoldering ruins.
Fire Chief William A. Moore said the fire was discovered shortly after 3 p.m. It apparently started in a shed used for oil storage in the rear of a building at 427 Warren St., occupied by Concra Upholstering Company.
General Alarm Sounded
A few minutes after the first fireman arrived at the scene, the chief said, the fire, fanned by high winds, had spread to the rear of five buildings in Warren St., and a general alarm was sounded.
In addition to the six Hudson fire companies, firemen from Catskill, Greenport, Claverack, and Stockport battled the blaze. At the height of the fire, Chief Moore said, 20 hose lines were played on the burning buildings. Firemen from other nearby communities were alerted and were ready to aid if they were needed.
The three-story brick and wooden building at 427 Warren St. contained several apartments in addition to the upholstering firm.
Buildings Destroyed
Other buildings destroyed by the fire:
423 Warren St., two-story frame building housing Steve's Barber Shop and apartments.
425 Warren St., two-story frame building occupied by the Flax Tailor Shop and apartments.
429 Warren St., three-story wooden building housing the Mischitelli Fruit Store and apartments.
431 Warren St., three-story brick and frame building occupied by business offices and apartments. 
Smoke felled several firemen and near-zero temperatures caused others to suffer frostbite. Treated at Columbia County Memorial Hospital and discharged were: Louis Canape, 32, smoke poisoning; Louis Iaccino Jr., 19, smoke poisoning; Robert Hutchings, 23, smoke poisoning; Theodore Grab, 29, frostbitten hands; and Alex Hallenbeck, 23, frostbitten feet. All the injured firemen were from Hudson.
Several other firemen suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene by members of Greenport Rescue Squad. 
The article about the fire in the Times Union contains basically the same information but includes some details worth sharing. 
Five buildings were destroyed by a wind-fanned fire in Hudson's downtown business section yesterday, causing damage estimated at well over $300,000. Officials described it as the worst fire in the history of that city. . . .
Near zero temperatures and high winds hampered firemen in their efforts to check the blaze. At the height of the fire which broke out shortly after 3 p.m., nearly 400 firemen were fighting the fire. . . . 
The Chief said the flames had made so much headway when the first companies arrived that he immediately sent out the call to other fire units in an effort to keep the fire from spreading through the entire 14 building block and other nearby buildings. A lack of water pressure also hampered fire fighters, he said. . . .
The fire was finally brought under control at 9 p.m. after threatening the entire downtown business section for nearly six hours. Thick billowing smoke also impeded fire fighters as well as the high winds that continuously lashed up the flames and made it difficult for firemen to check the blaze.
The Times Union account of the fire includes not only the names and ages of the firemen who suffered smoke poisoning and frostbite but also their addresses. It is poignant to note that Robert Hutchings, who fought the fire and suffered smoke poisoning, was also made homeless by the fire. He lived at 427 Warren Street.

Fortunately, the contemporary accounts of the buildings destroyed by the fire are somewhat exaggerated. The buildings that stood at 427 and 425 Warren Street are certainly gone, but 423 Warren Street appears to have survived, absent its top story, or perhaps it was rebuilt, and 429 and 431 Warren Street are definitely still with us, appearing pretty much as they did in 1951.


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