101 Years Ago Today
Today marks 101 years since the deadliest fire in our hometown city, St. Louis. The quick-spreading fire killed 30 men and destroyed the seven-story Boatmen’s Bank building at Washington Avenue and Fourth Street. Boatmen’s Bank built the building in 1890 and had offices on the first floor. The rest of the building was occupied by the Missouri Athletic Club (MAC), founded in 1903. The men’s club remodeled to house dining and meeting spaces, a gym and swimming pool, a Turkish bath, barber shop, bar, and an area of small sleeping rooms, all made of wood, for 97 members and guests on the fifth and sixth floors. Most of the victims of the fire were trapped there or died trying to escape. About 90 members, guests, and employees were in the building at the time of the fire, though the desk registry was destroyed so no one can be sure.
Following the fire, Fire Chief Charles Swingley reported he had warned the club several times that the lodge area was not safe for sleeping purposes. In 1918, the city adopted a new building code requiring public lodgings to have fireproof staircases enclosed by masonry. The MAC eventually rebuilt a new 10-story building of brick, stone, and reinforced concrete, using wood only for doors, windows, gymnasium, and banquet floors.
Contributed by Stephanie Lange