Fire on South Bickford

The El Reno Daily Tribune (El Reno, Okla.), Vol. 52, No. 254, Ed. 1 Thursday, December 23, 1943 – Page 1 of 8.

Five El Reno Business Establishments and Four offices are destroyed in Early-Morning Flames

Loss in Disastrous Blaze Estimated at $150,000

Woolworth Store, Rector Hardware, Western Union, Theatre, Doctors’ Offices and Recreation Hall Burn

Fire which was discovered at 5:30 a.m. today razed three buildings, housing five business establishments on the ground floors in the 100 block of South Bickford avenue, in the heart of the El Reno business district, and destroyed four offices on the second floor of the structures, at a total loss conservatively estimated at $150,000.

Entirely burned were:

  1. The 75-foot-front, two-story Liebmann building housing the F. W. Woolworth company’s store, Rector’s hardware store and the Western Union office on the ground floor, as well as the offices of Dr. Joseph T. Phelps, Dr. Malcolm E. Phelps and Dr. James P. Neal on the second floor.
  2. The Menefee building, housing Lovelady’s recreation hall on the first floor and the offices of Liebmann Properties on the second floor.
  3. The Lowenstein building housing the El Caro theatre on the ground floor and properties of the El Reno theatres on the second floor.

Drug Store Damaged

Also damaged was the two-story building owned by Herman Youngheim and housing Crown drug store on the ground floor.  Flames did not penetrate into the Youngheim building, but the entire structure was water-soaked and damage to the drug company’s stock from both smoke and water was extensive. The entire second floor of this building is being remodeled into apartments, where additional damage was caused from smoke and water.  Roof of the building also was damaged by fire.

The Liebmann building was a total loss, the entire structure burning to the ground.  All walls, including those at the front and the back, came to the earth.  The entire stock of the Woolworth company was consumed in the flames, as well as the entire stock of Rector hardware.  All equipment and furnishings in the doctors’ offices on the second floor also was a total loss.  Part of the equipment in the Western Union office was saved.

Theatre is Gutted

Front and back walls of the Menefee building were left standing, but equipment in the recreation hall, including all pool tables, burned. The building was owned by Mrs. Celinda B. Menefee of Long Beach, Calif.  The upstairs quarters of this building was occupied by offices of Liebmann Properties, where all furnishings, records, etc., were consumed by the blaze.

Walls of the theatre building, owned by Harry Lowenstein of Ardmore, were left standing but the structure was gutted and was considered a total loss.

Smoke was discovered by Fred McWhorter, night policeman, while making a routine check through the alley.  Smoke was then pouring from the rear of the Woolworth store and from the rear of the Rector store, making it impossible to determine accurately where the flames had started.

Flames Spread Rapidly

The blaze spread rapidly, since the fire department was handicapped by lack of men who could reach the scene immediately.

Fire fighting crews from the Rock Island railroad were among the first to join the El Reno firemen, and material assistance was given by the fire departments from Fort Reno and from the El Reno federal reformatory.  Manpower from the fort aided materially in bringing the flames under control and the reformatory department, manned by prisoners, gave invaluable assistance, LeRoy Searcy, chief of the El Reno department said.

All available trucks from the fort and the reformatory, were placed in use, as well as the four El Reno trucks, and the blaze was under control by 7:30 a.m. Trucks, however, still were pumping water onto the smoking ruins at 3 p.m.

Walls of the Liebmann building tumbled at 7 a.m. and narrowly missed covering one of the fire trucks parked in the street.

No serious injuries were suffered by any one in fighting the


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Flames Sweep Much of Block

Five Businesses and Four Offices Burn

(Continued From Page One)

blaze, it was stated by Searcy and Lee Harvey, chief of police.

Others Give Assistance

Many members of the reformatory staff assisted in policing the area and in directing traffic to prevent congestion which would have hampered the work of the firemen.

Members of the Red Cross personnel set up headquarters in the fire station to furnish hot coffee, cigarets, etc., to firemen and volunteers who were forced to work in the extreme cold.  Pavements were made slippery by ice which formed when water hit the streets.

Frd Wewerka, manager of Liebmann Properties, said his company planned to rebuild the 75-foot, two-story structure as soon as possible, with the speed of rebuilding to depend largely upon the success of the company in obtaining priorities for building materials.

Theatre To Rebuild

E. R. Slocum, manager of El Reno theatres, said he and the Griffith Consolidated theatres would rebuild the El Caro with a greater seating capacity when priorities could be secured.  “Until such time as the El Caro can be rebuilt, the Rocket and the Royal theatres will furnish the moving picture entertainment for El Reno.”  Slocum said, adding that plans are already underway to open the Empress theatre which was closed in 1939.

Plans of B. U. Rector, proprietor of Rector’s hardware store, were uncertain today but he expects to continue in business in El Reno when he is able to obtain stock for a new store.

Today’s blaze was the most disastrous to occur here since June 30, 1935, when the Canadian Mill and Elevator company’s plant was burned at a loss in excess of $300,000.