Beach Rebuilding Program Gets Underway Following Fire

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Hampton Union

Thursday, July 20, 1950

[Price 5 cents]

Monday afternoon a cornerstone laying ceremony was held at the corner of C street and Ocean boulevard to indicate that work will get underway immediately on a new block for that area. The razed building, which was occupied by Kelly's Grill, Henry's Real Estate office and Gendron's Ice Cream parlor, was owned by the Joseph O. Hobbs estate of North Hampton.

Two sons of the deceased owner, Paul W. Hobbs of North Hampton and Leon Hobbs of Somerville, Mass., were present Monday at the ceremony which was conducted by Mr. Edwin L. Batchelder, representing the Hampton Beach Improvement company, and Ray L. Goding, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Charles F. Butler, secretary.

The Hampton Beach Improvement Company has a 99-year lease from the Town of Hampton on all the land from the Ocean House property north to the Ashworth Hotel and in turn leases the land on a 10-year basis to the property owners.

New Fireproof Block

Mr. Hobbs indicated Monday that the new block will be of cement, steel, and brick fireproof construction, and will extend for 50 feet on C street. All three tenants in the old building leveled by the fire have indicated that they will occupy the same position in the new building.

Other property owners to consider rebuilding as soon as insurance adjustments can be made are John Walsh and John Hines, popularly known as "The Two Jacks", owners of The Playland which was completely destroyed and the Howard Johnson building, which sustained considerable damage.

In all, 19 businesses were wiped out by the fire which at one time threatened to spread through the entire business section of the beach due to the lack of water pressure in the hydrant system. It is generally conceded that the only thing that saved the center of the beach was the emergency use of the new salt water hydrants along Marsh avenue.

Pump Salt Water

Although the new salt water system is not yet in operation, fire department officials were able to station a pumper in the town parking lot and fill the salt water mains. An adequate water supply was then available from two hydrants at the foot of B and C streets to halt the spread of the blaze.

Beach officials, although acutely aware of the lack of adequate water pressure in the fresh water mains, hastened this week to assure all vacationists that the emergency hook up of the salt water hydrant system will be kept in use, thereby assuring an adequate supply of water for fire fighting purposes.

Fire Chief George H. Lamott declared that if the new $60,000 salt water fire main along Marsh avenue had been completed on schedule, the beach front "fire loss would be much less than it is."

Launch Investigations

Chief Lamott pointed out that the salt water fire system was nearly complete except for installation of pumps and motors which contractors were unable to deliver on schedule.

This main would supply 2,000 gallons per minute and would have instantly supplied all water necessary to extinguish the fire in its first stages.

Investigations of the costly fire were launched Saturday by state and local fire officials as well as representatives of the National Board of Fire Underwriters to determine the starting point and cause of the blaze.

State Fire Marshall Aubrey Robinson and L. E. Pendleton of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, joined Fire Chief Lamott, Police Chief John J. Malek and Deputy Sheriff Floyd I. Gale in a probe of the disastrous fire.

$350,000 Loss Estimated

Although there were several theories rumored about the beach as to the cause of the blaze, Chief Lamott stated Tuesday that it was apparent that the fire started in a storage shed in the rear of Dudley's Hotel and Gift Shop, but that so far it has been impossible to learn the cause.

The fire chief also stated that it was next to impossible to estimate the amount of damage, but that the fire loss would probably reach $350,000 and "might go even higher."

The blaze broke out shortly before six o'clock and soon mushroomed up through the wooden frame structures. Although the actual fire was contained in the buildings on the north side of C street at the onset, the wooden structures across the street broke out in flames soon afterwards from the intense heat of the burning buildings which turned C street into an inferno.

Outside Towns Respond

Aid was summoned from twelve surrounding towns and cities as the fire threatened to spread throughout the entire business section.

Departments which assisted the beach fire department included those from Portsmouth, Exeter, North Hampton, Hampton Falls, Rye Beach, Seabrook, Newington, Portsmouth Naval Base, Salisbury, Newburyport, Amesbury and Lawrence, Mass.

The North Hampton Fire Department pumper was driven onto the beach and pumped water from the ocean. A wrecker stood by gradually pulling the pumper onto higher ground as the tide rose.

Another pumper was placed in the municipal parking lot at the end of G street and pumped water from the marshes.

Call Out National Guard

The flames were finally brought under control when they reached the building housing Margaret M. Junkins Candy Shop. A concrete wall between it and the Ocean House hotel stopped the progress of the flames which would have enveloped the Casino block had they broken through the Ocean House.

On C street the flames were halted at the Southview Manor rooming house which was partially destroyed. The Edgewater cottage next to the manor was soaked with garden hose and was untouched by fire.

The Portsmouth National Guard unit, Headquarters Co., First Battalion, 195th Infantry, was called out shortly after midnight and posted as a guard at the fire damaged area to avoid looting, several owners having reported that large sums of money were contained in safes among the rubble.

Scarcely before the ruins had stopped smouldering Saturday morning, workmen were on the scene to erect a fence around the blacked area. The National Guard units patrolled the area throughout Saturday.

Firemen Injured

An estimated 50,000 persons flocked to the scene. Parked cars extending for about four miles along Route 1A and left only a narrow lane for arriving fire apparatus.

Doctors and nurses set up volunteer first aid stations at the police and fire stations. They treated about 25 persons for cuts and bruises, and smoke inhalation. None were seriously hurt.

Several firemen and volunteer firemen were injured, but none seriously. Treated at Exeter Hospital were Delbert Sawyer, Jr., 19, Salisbury Beach, Mass., smoke inhalation; Robert DeGraff, 24, Hampton Beach, smoke inhalation and exhaustion; Lt. Howard Heath, 40, Lawrence, Mass. Fire Department, smoke inhalation.

Two local call men were injured by flying glass, Eugene Parker received cuts on the hand and Precinct Commissioner James W. Tucker, Jr., was also cut by glass and suffered a broken nose.

Businesses Lost

In all, nineteen business were completely destroyed or badly gutted including Dudley's Gift Shop and Hotel owned by Arne Autio, Hampton Beach; Eileen's Sandwich Shop, Charles Bradford, Portland, Maine; Jun kin's Candy Shop, Margaret M. Junkins, Hampton Beach; Exeter and Hampton Electric Company office; Playland Arcade, Walsh and Hines, Lynn, Mass.; Lea's Tea Room, Lea and George Downer, Hampton; Kelly's Grill, Paul Kelly, Hampton; Henry's Real Estate, Henry Dupuis, Hampton; Wesley Rooming House, Miss Helena Thurlow and Mrs. Ruth Davis, Newburyport, Mass.; Gandreau's Barber Shop, Art Gandreau, Haverhill, Mass. and,

Color Spot, Arthur Van DerKar, New York; Bar-X Barbecue, Mrs. Roberta Winkler, Exeter; Marguerite's Lunchroom, Helen M. Hupper, Lynn; John's Barber Shop, John Gregory, Hampton Beach; Hamel Dry Cleaners, Henry J. Hamel, Nashua; Gendron's Ice Cream Parlor, Fred and Arthur Gendron, Connecticut; Crew Hats Concession, Robert M. Crapo; Popcorn Stand, Francis Murphy; and the Burnham Guest House.

The Avon Hotel on B Street, owned and operated by John W. Dignon, was also badly gutted in the rear with nearly one-third of the rooms being damaged. Repair work was started immediately and the Avon is expected to be back in full scale operation within a week.

Ruins Attract Crowds

The six owners of the property housing these businesses were among the hardest hit by the blaze and included Arne Autio, owner of the Dudley Gift Shop and Hotel; Douglass Hunter owner of several large buildings on C Street; John Walsh and John Hines, owners of the Playland and Howard Johnson's stand; the Hobbs estate; the Casino Associates; Mrs. Ruth Davis and Miss Helena Thurlow, owners of the Wesley.

Chief of Police John J. Malek, estimated that approximately 100,000 persons came to the beach over the weekend to view the ruins. The sight-seers presented a traffic problem and automobiles coming on to the beach from the North end of the beach were backed up on the Winnacunnet Road more than a mile from the intersection of the road and Ocean Boulevard at North Shore. Many persons having business at the beach elected to drive to Seabrook and then by Seabrook Beach and the new Hampton Beach toll bridge to save time. Despite the heavy traffic, no serious accidents were reported to the police. A few persons were treated at the first aid rooms.

May Chesney, National Disaster Field Worker for the American Red Cross, of Washington, D. C. will be at Hampton Beach Thursday to care for final adjustments on rehabilitation of the small businessmen who lost everything in the fire.

Funds will be available to re-establish the businesses in the position that they were before the fire.

Local Red Cross workers who assisted during the fire Friday night were Mrs. Charlotte Batchelder, chairman of the Hampton Branch, Miss Adeline Marston, Mrs. Winslow White, Mr. Roy W. Gillmore all of Hampton, and Mrs. Lyman Collishaw of Exeter, president of the local unit.

Mr. William Watt field worker for the American Red Cross left Tuesday after spending several days at the beach.

$350,000 Fire Is Third In History Of Hampton Beach

Hampton Union

Thursday, July 20, 1950

[Price 5 cents]

Although Hampton Beach has previously experienced two disastrous fires which swept over a larger area than last Friday night's fire, records of the Fire Department show that the weekend fire was far more costly than any other fire at the resort.

On September 23, 1915, the area between B Street and Highland Avenue, including 1,000 feet of the ocean front and extending back 500 feet to Marsh (now Ashworth) Avenue, St. Patrick's Church, a theatre, Ashworth Hotel and numerous other hotels, rooming houses and cottages were destroyed at a loss of $250,000.

In July, 1921, there was a similar fire which leveled the area between B Street right up to the Ashworth hotel and damage then was also estimated at $250,000. In the period since these fires, each property modernized to account for the increased valuation.

[For photos of the July 14, 1950 fire, see Index to Hampton Beach Fire Photos, courtesy of L. Branniff.]
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