This year, Dec. 8 will mark the 80th anniversary of the Great Fire of 1922.
Here are a few stories of subsequent fires within the downtown district. Most fires burned within a block of each other.
Sixteen months after that fateful conflagration, another fire destroyed temporary structures constructed to house businesses displaced by the 1922 fire. Wood buildings were set over what is now a sunken parking lot on 13th and Exchange. Bloech's paint and paper store was one such building.
Bloech canceled his insurance several days before smoke was seen coming out of his storeroom. Soon, the front facade was engulfed with flames fed by chemicals and paper. When Fire Chief Eugene Bussing arrived, adjoining spaces were starting to burn. Dr. Henry Rones' office and Schultz- Jacobson's jewelry store were threatened.
Bussing's men squelched the fire quickly. Neighboring businesses, however, suffered smoke and water damage. Gimre's Shoe Store, for instance, lost most of its stock while the same was true of Astoria Stationery. Combined business loss was estimated at $27,800.
In 1934, two commercial structures caught fire. Both buildings were designed by the architectural firm Strong and McNaughton and shared a common wall. The first fire started in the basement of the Stokes Building on the northeast corner of 12th and Commercial streets, where Wells Fargo Bank is presently located.
It burned girders and flooring while entering a storeroom for the Owl Drugstore. Fire damage was confined to the basement, but smoke damage affected the drugstore, King Yen Low Restaurant, Ekstrom Jewelers, Reed and Grimberg Shoes and Munger's Apparel Shop. Months later, a fire broke out at the Griffin Building, where Link's Outdoor is located today.
The brick-faced building had three storefronts: the Golden Eagle Restaurant, Palace Barbershop and the Len Claire Beauty Shop. Like that at its neighbor, the fire began in the basement. This time, the first floor collapsed.
Fire Chief Charles Foster's sons, Tom and Ned, entered the flames. An explosion lobbed a projectile at Tom, slicing his forehead. He staggered, bleeding, nearly unconscious, as his younger brother helped him out of the building. Ned returned to the inferno, bleeding profusely and "weakening rapidly." He survived the ordeal, but was later taken to St. Mary's for treatment.
The structure was gutted. Losses were estimated between $20,000 and $25,000 for the building, kitchen equipment and merchandise.
In 1942, the Associated Building on the northwest corner of 12th and Commercial caught fire. Designed by Canadian architect Charles T. Diamond, the mediterranean detailed structure was one of the first buildings to be constructed after the Great Fire of 1922.
The fire started after midnight in the basement below Thriftwise Drugs. Heavy smoke made its way up to the second floor where Mr. and Mrs. Elmer "Duke" Sawyze and Mr. and Mrs. Alex Baldigan slept in their respective apartments. Mrs. Swayze was the first to awake. She and her husband "meagerly clothed themselves," crossed the hall and woke the Baldigans.
Together, they blindly felt their way down the hall to safety.
Mrs. Charles Lewis, who lived in a second-floor apartment in the Stokes Building, offered the poorly clad couples a place to stay. Then, she served coffee to firefighters the rest of the night.
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard assisted Fire Chief Wayne Osterby in the battle.
Their quick efforts confined the most serious damage to the southeast portion of the building. Thriftwise Drugs was the hardest hit, but neighbor Berensen Apparel also burned. Ball Studio, Fiesta Club, Siberian lunchroom and Bush Men's Apparel suffered water and smoke damage.
Nine months later, the easternmost storefronts remained charred and empty. At that point, new owners began clearing the first floor and basement of debris. They had no potential tenant for the space. Their priority then was to convert the second floor to apartment and hotel use. Eventually, the corner storefront was filled by Jerome's Ladies Apparel and the upstairs converted to office and apartments.
In 1952, the burning of the Siddall Hotel was said to be the largest fire since that of 1922. Loss was estimated at $100,000. The Siddall Hotel, originally the Barton Hotel, now the Siddall Apartments, was designed by Earl G. Cash of Portland. The fire started near the basement stairs and was noticed by Helen Maag, owner of Mode O'Day dress shop around 5:40 p.m.
Fire Chief Osterby and men responded quickly. They were joined in combat by firefighters from Tongue Point's Navy and Coast Guard. Gunshot filled the air as shotgun shells exploded in Astoria Sporting Goods. No one was wounded. Then, two firemen narrowly escaped injury when the hotel lobby phone booth burst through the floor and crashed into the basement next to them.
Despite the drama, some Astorians remained unimpressed or maybe drunk. As 10-foot high flames burst from the hotel, patrons of the Schooner Tavern barely looked up from their drinks.
"I've seen fires," said a sailor who never bothered to investigate. Next door at the Liberty Theater, Gary Cooper's Distant Drums fell silent. Smoke seeped through a back hall forcing the film to be canceled. The showing of Swamp fighting Seminole Indians was postponed.
Meanwhile, it's is hard to imagine what movie-goers at the Riviera Theater were thinking. There, Richard Widmark starred in Red Skies of Montana, a "never-before-filmed spectacle of smoke jumpers."
The real show was back at the Siddall Hotel where nearly 3,000 had gathered. Cheers rose as Clyde Trullinger, a painter, scaled a ladder. Within view of a second story window were six canaries "fluttering wildly" in cages. With ax in hand, Trullinger broke the glass, rescued the birds and passed three cages to his brother Charles and Ray Lund. Although one canary fainted from smoke inhalation, it revived in the warmth of a local restaurant.
It was midnight before the fire was under control. Local women continued to serve hot coffee to chilled firemen throughout the snowy February night. Some men were almost numb. It was reported one wet, trembling fireman dropped three cigarettes before managing to place one in his mouth. While the sheer size of the Siddall fire separated it from others, it's story shares a common thread. In each case, disaster was averted.
As we remember the 80th anniversary of the Great Fire, it is more than contemplating loss to our city. It marks the perseverance of our community, the dedication of our firefighters and the willingness of Astorians to assist victims or those who are endangered.
Remembering the Great Fire recognizes our community spirit and reminds us of how we can work together.
John E. Goodenberger is a historic building consultant who lives in Astoria.