A Great Big City

November 6 in History: Fire at 520 West End Ave

520 West End Ave
520 West End Ave via Google Maps

An overnight fire caused residents to evacuate their homes November 6, 1922, 95 years ago today.

It's eye-opening to read about fairly mundane parts of history that occurred in the city, and it's even easier to imagine when the same buildings are still around today. Take a trip to the corner of West End Ave and 85th Street and you'll see a castle-like stone building that was filled with smoke overnight almost one hundred years ago.

From the The New York Herald on November 6, 1922, the fire was confined to the dumbwaiter shaft, which may have been installed when the building was a school 20 years earlier. The smoke from the fire caused the true hazard, filling rooms and hallways and almost trapping a maid and two small children on the top floor. A Mr. Herbert K. Stroud, the ground floor resident, noticed the fire that night and he and his wife went through the building, evacuating all the residents, with Mr. Stroud even carrying the children down from the top floor. The cause of the fire wasn't given, but firefighters were able to knock down the flames with minimum damage.

The small building nestled between large apartments looks like a modern change, but a photo from just two years later, in 1924, shows the larger building had just finished construction, and a note on the reverse of the photo says it had replaced three four-story buildings previously standing in that area. A second photo of 85th street from the 1910s gives an idea what the homes along West End Avenue may have looked like before being torn down.

It's a benefit to history that the little corner building from the 1890s survived the wrecking ball and remained in place, adding a regal atmosphere to the neighborhood and allowing us to picture a night 95 years ago, when smoke was billowing from its windows on a November night.

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