Ocean Park's famous Fraser's Million-Dollar-Pier Fire
Rose Avenue and
September 4, 1912
The speed with which the LAFD's first motorized
apparatus could get to a fire was impressively demonstrated late on the
afternoon of September 4, 1912, when Chief Eley was notified that Ocean
Park's famous Fraser's Million-Dollar-Pier was burning. Ocean
Park, Santa Monica and Venice firefighters needed the LAFD's help.
The gigantic amusement pier was more than 14 miles from
headquarters. Horse-drawn equipment could not possibly make the
run. Eley ordered the nearest motorized pumper - Engine 26's
Robinson - to respond along with Hose 5 at 1409 West Vernon Avenue and
Engines 4 and 13 from downtown.
Washington Boulevard to the beach, Eley and the four motorized companies
fought heavy traffic as thousands of spectators were driving toward the
awesome thick black cloud of smoke that was obscuring the setting
sun. Eley arrived and all four companies were operation in less
than 27 minutes after the chief engineer was called at
headquarters. The long wooden pier and its many attractions - the
famous observation ballroom, the Crazy House, Dragon's Gorge and the auditorium-dance
pavilion - were doomed. Without fireboats, there was absolutely no
way to make an attack on the fire and it was too dangerous to bring men
and apparatus onto the pier. Fraser's Million-Dollar-Pier was
written off as lost while the stiff breeze from the ocean drove thick
smoke and heat directly at firefighters.
firebrands and radiant heat joined together as the fire jumped the Ocean
Front traffic way and began gnawing into blocks of buildings in an area encompassing
Ashland Avenue on the north, Rose Avenue on the south and Trolleyway
(Speedway) on the east. Jam-packed among these narrow streets were
six blocks of wooden cottages, brick hotels, apartment houses, stores
and commercial buildings.
Eley and his
four companies, assisted by LAFD volunteers from stations in the western
section of the city, set up a battleline on Pier Avenue to protect the
Auto Inn Garage, despite warnings that a 300-gallon storage tank of
gasoline was inside. After an hour-long battle, radiant heat
ignited the garage and bulled firefighters backward. The tank
exploded and skyrocketed over their heads. Paul Shoup, president
of the Pacific Electric Railway, sent word to Eley that he had a train
of flat cars standing by to rush more fire engines to the beach, Eley
fall, the glare and flames could be seen from most parts of Los
Angeles. The observation balloon's tie-down ropes burned
away. Lifting skyward, the ropes snagged the burning flagpole atop
the dance pavilion and carried it upward. The blazing balloon was
blown far inland by the stiff ocean wind and then come crashing sown 40
miles away in San Dimas.
conflagration raged for nearly four hours as it wiped out the pier, everything
on it and destroyed or damaged 225 structures in a six-block area of
almost complete devastation. One man was drowned when he jumped
off the end of the pier into heavy surf and 15 other persons were
missing by midnight. Losses were set at $3 million. The site
would one day become the Pacific Ocean Park amusement center which
itself would become the site of several severe fires.
CENTENNIAL by Paul Ditzel p83-84.