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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Broadway Auto Top and Body Company


The New York Times
December 29, 1909

Private Machines at the Place for Repairs Only a Few Hours When Fire Started.


One Woman Risked Her Life to Save Her Cat, While Another Lost Her Savings.

Flames fed by an explosion of gasoline wiped out the Broadway Auto Top and Body Company, at 216 West Fiftieth Street, late yesterday afternoon, destroyed half a dozen private machines in the basement, and then swept up through the three upper floors of the brick building, driving a dozen or more families into the snow.  For awhile the fire seemed in danger of spreading through the block and reaching automobile establishments just around the corner on Broadway.

The machines destroyed had been sent to the Broadway company's place for repairs, and some of them had arrived only a few hours before the fire started.  Several mechanicians were in the basement working on the machines, and one was asleep down there in the rear.  One of the employees saw a spurt of flame near the east wall, close to a touring car owned by B. F. Greenhut.  There was a stampede for the street, but the sleeping man was forgotten in the hurry.

Just after the nearest fire engine reached there an explosion occurred and the building shook to its foundation.  The flames had reached the gasoline tank of one of the machines, and the car was demolished by the force of the explosion.

It was then that the sleeping mechanician awoke and stumbled out through the smoke, gaining the street somewhat dazed but unhurt.  The other employes of the auto company did not know him, but said that he was employed by some of the neighboring automobile houses and had just dropped in for a nap.

The explosion gave the first alarm to some of the families living on the three upper floors of the building, and with one accord they started down the stairway.  The flames, by that time, had eaten through the ceiling of the first floor and were well on their way toward the roof.

Mrs. Lillian Clem, who lived on the second floor, paused at the stairs on remembering that her pet cat, a large Maltese, was in her apartments.  Mrs. Clem found the cat in the kitchen, and, wrapping it in her shawl, dashed to the street in safety.

Mrs. J. H. Hill, who lived on the top floor, had started downstairs when she remembered that her savings, consisting of several hundred dollars in gold, were in her jewel case in her bedroom.  She was undecided whether to risk her life or let her hoard go, but she started back just as several of the firemen reached her on the stairs.  One of them grabbed her by the arm, and in spite of her protests hustled her down to the street.  Her savings were burned.

Two firemen were half way up ladders on the building's front when the explosion occurred.  They slid from the ladders and fell in a shower of broken glass.  Neither was injured.

Next door was the big six-story building of the Mason-Seaman Transportation Company, where nearly 100 horses were stabled.  All the animals were led out at the first alarm.

Broadway at Fiftieth Street was well filled with the usual late afternoon throng homeward bound when the fire was in progress, and the police had some difficulty keeping a space large enough for the firemen to work in.  The Subway passengers, alighting at the Fiftieth Street Station, helped add to the confusion.

Alexander Goldmer, General Manager of the Broadway Auto Top and Body Company, said that the loss to his concern, including the six destroyed automobiles, would amount to about $30,000.  The total damage is believed to have been about $40,000.

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