21 May 2010

The Burning of the Tubbs Hotel, Oakland, CA

I decided to research a bit more on the Tubbs Hotel, mentioned in Tuesday's post. The hotel was a major landmark of its time, and its owner, Hiram Tubbs, even played a major role in early transit lines in Oakland, funding a streetcar line that would shuttle visitors to his hotel from their disembarkation at the train depot down on Broadway. Tubbs had made his money in the cordage business, providing rope and line to the myriad ships that sailed into and around San Francisco Bay; his company manufactured the rope in San Francisco. Michael Colbruno's fascinating Lives of the Dead blog (covering Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery), has a great post with a biography of Tubbs here.

An online search at Google Books yielded the following photo of the smoldering remains of the Tubbs Hotel, from a book on Oakland's Fire Department:

And from the San Francisco Morning Call, the day after the fire, there was this account, clearly written on a paid-per-word basis:

From: "The San Francisco Morning Call", 15 August 1893, p. 3
Oakland's Fine Landmark Destroyed
Loss Estimated at $83,000 With only $25,000 Insurance-The Origin Unknown
Tubbs' Hotel on Twelfth street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, was burned to the ground last night.
The building and furniture were valued at $85,000. The insurance is something over $25,000.
A general alarm of fire was rung in from box 45 at 9:30 o'clock. The entire department turned out and a vigorous fight was instituted against the flames, but with little success. The entire hotel building was burned to the ground, and the greater part of the furniture was also lost.

There were twenty guests staying at the house, but fortunately all escaped uninjured.
All efforts to fix the origin of the fire are futile, as the flames broke out in the upper part of the southeast tower in an unoccupied room. From this vantage point the fire ran rapidly around the entire roof until the upper part of the building was a circle of blazing rafters. The building occupied an entire 300-foot block. Its side extension was about 260 feet and its frton 225 feet. The hotel was leased by Paul Marony about two years ago, and at that time it was largely refurnished at an expense of $20,000. Mr. Marony was living with his family at the hotel.
WIth the destruction of the Tubbs Hotel there disappears one of the most noteworthy landmarks of Oakland. It was built in 1870 by Hiram Tubbs of the Tubbs Cordage Company of San Francisco. It cost originally $210,000, the building alone being erected at an expense of $110,000. At that time it was considered one of the most imposing structures in this part of California. Its 200 rooms were filled with travelers and mining men. When the great mining booms of the '70's were at their height the Tubbs' was the favorite rendezvous of speculators and mining men.
Many reminiscences were heard among the prominent men who crowded about last night and watched the big building sink into ruins. For some time it has not been a paying investment, and the few guests who stayed there were fearful of the very fate that overtook it last night.
Mr. Tubbs, who owned the building at the time of its destruction, was an eye-witness of the fire from his house, directly across the avenue. He spoke very nervously when interviewed by a CALL reporter, shifting his inevitable cigar in his mouth and recalling regretfully the good old days of gold when his hotel had been the scene fo gayety and animation.
The entire insurance was carried by Mr. Dingee of Oakland.
After its completion the hotel was opened by Michael Tubbs, the father of Hiram Tubbs, the owner, and a man named Patten, and in the years succeeding it was run by various men. After Tubbs and Patten came Kellogg, who was running the house during the memorable visit of Grant to this coast.
In those days and the flush times of the stock excitement the house was the scene of many brilliant gatherings of notable people, Jim Keene of stock fame and Fillmore, the railroad man, and numerous others being located beneath its roof. Following the Kellogg reign was that of Lawlor, then came in rapid succession Stevenson, who skipped out with his chambermaid to the north. Then came Merideth Davis, a man who furnished many good stories for the newspapers and gossips, who hied him to Chicago.
The place had ceased paying long since, but the beautiful grounds about the place and the house itself were well kept up and it was a decided ornament to East Oakland, and was pointed to with pride by residents in the neighborhood.
The owner, Hiram Tubbs, a smooth-faced old gentleman, stood in his handsome residence opposite and looked longingly toward the building as the angry flames that lit up the skies for miles licked up the towers of the building and ate their way into the ornamental woodwork that crumbled before it fell to the ground in blazing fagots.
"Will you rebuild the house?" Mr. Tubbs was asked by the reporter.
"Oh, no no," said the old man as he shook his head.
Some small part of furniture on the lower floor was saved, but that in the upper part of the building is all lost. The alarm was turned in by W. J. Melvin, a druggist across the street, who saw first a tiny blaze licking its way out of the southeast tower near the very roof, and it is not known exactly how it did start. A defective flue was mentioned, but Mr. Tubbs shook his head.
When asked if he though it was incendiary, he said: "I do not know; the flues were in good condition through the entire house, and we never had any trouble from that source."
The flames as they shot upward lit up the surrounding country all about, and the crowds of people flocking to the fire from every conceivable point were enormous.
Every streetcar and vehicle obtainable was pressed into service, but still very many had to walk.
At midnight the fire was still burning, and innumerable black chimneys of the building reared high above all and looked down on a mass of embers, all that is left of an historical landmark.

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