Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

THE 1919 ESLOW BLOCK FIRE REMEMBERED

Albion Recorder, March 24, 1997, pg. 4

Each building in downtown Albion was originally known by the name of its builder or owner, rather than by the address numbers. For example, where Park’s Drug Store is located today was once known as the Sheldon Block; the location of Franzoni’s Pizza was once the Irwin Block, a four-story "skyscraper" on the northwest corner of S. Superior and W. Porter Streets. It was erected in 1868 by Albion’s first blacksmith Champion Eslow (1813-1880) and his son James C. Eslow (1836-1918) who were involved in numerous building enterprises in town, especially on the north side of W. Porter St. and in the present day Market Place area. A photograph of the Eslows and the four-story building appears in my book History of Albion, page 87.

The Eslow Block contained numerous businesses on the ground floor and even in the basement, where there was a sidewalk step-down entrance off W. Porter St. The latter was removed in the early 1960s. Eslow Hall was the name of a multi-purpose entertainment and meeting place located on the second floor of this structure, which opened on May 11, 1868. For example, Tom Thumb and Commodore Nutt appeared here in 1869. There were also private apartments in the rear of the Eslow Block.

James Eslow opened the Bijou Theatre in the Eslow Block in 1909, which was located on the north side of the first floor of this four-story building. The theatre was a very popular entertainment spot in the early 1910s. A few motion picture reels would be run, followed by one or two vaudeville acts. Eslow sold the Bijou Theatre to local saloonist George McGuire (brother of Detroit Tigers player Jim "Deacon" McGuire) in 1915. George continued to operate the Bijou until October, 1923.

The Eslow Block was the site of a spectacular fire on Sunday, August 31, 1919. This fire, fueled by a strong draft from an old elevator shaft, began about three o’clock in the afternoon on the second floor during the showing of the film "For Life." An elevator weighing close to half a ton came crashing through from the second floor down to the movie house, landing amidst the front row seats occupied by children. A near riot erupted as nearly 200 persons attempted to flee out the front door, although owner McGuire and theatre personnel tried to calmly direct the patrons out the door. McGuire fortunately was able to quickly remove his electric piano, mechanical orchestra, and projection machines, so his loss was small.

It was surmised that the fire was started by some boys who were smoking cigarettes in one of the rooms where they frequented. One witness said they first noticed smoke coming from the elevator shaft where they believe someone threw a match. It is interesting to note that there have been other fires to historic structures here in Albion that have been allegedly started by boys who were smoking.

The damage was extensive, and the Albion Fire Department under the direction of Chief Fred Griswold was successful in containing the blaze, the worst in the Department’s history. The Marshall Fire Department had to be called in to assist in the battle, and their trucks arrived here in only 20 minutes. Over 4,000 feet of hose was used in fighting the fire. A large crowd gathered to watch the spectacle, and a dozen policemen were required to contain the crowd away from the immediate scene.

Also damaged in the fire was the adjoining structure, the G. H. Kilian Block where the Singer and Son Furniture and Undertaking establishment was located. That building collapsed several days later when the fourth floor wall of the Eslow Block fell upon its roof. The building was rebuilt and for many years was occupied by Caines Paint and Wallpaper.

Fortunately, the losses of everyone were covered by insurance. Local druggist Hadley H. Sheldon managed the Eslow estate properties, and handled the reconstruction details. The contractor for the rebuilding was the Weston Brothers. The fourth story was quickly removed, and the building was repaired. Today the Eslow Block is the site of the Albion Outdoors sporting goods firm. For many years it was known as the location of Goodwill Industries, and before that, Western Auto.

[INERNET VERSION: This week we present two photographs. The first shows the fire in progress on August 31, 1919 being fought by the Albion Fire Department.] The [second] photograph we have this week shows front of the Eslow Block after the fire before the fourth story was removed, and the adjoining Kilian Block. One can easily view the damage done by the fire. To the right is the Hodge Block, then the site of Afton A. Dibble, clothier, presently the site of Wilking Office Supply. The Bijou Theatre is on the right side of the Eslow Block, with its arched entranceway. The Rosenthal clothing firm is located to the left on the corner.


Eslow Fire Burning


Eslow Fire Damage

Next: HOWARD HALL WAS A MAJOR ENTERTAINMENT CENTER IN ALBION

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