Tuesday, July 21, 2015

1925 Shreveport Fire

In early September 1925, a devastating fire swept through Shreveport's historic Allendale neighborhood (detail above). Ironically, it originated at the Garden Street rental property owned by retired fire chief Chris O'Brien.

Strong winds carried the fire northeast, bounded by the Texas & Pacific Railroad. Firemen responding to the alarm -- from the engine house across the street -- arrived only to discover they had no access to water. In the map detail below, the fire station is marked in red, O'Brien's property is marked in white.

Contemporary accounts cite a water main failure several hours earlier as the primary cause of the fire's destructive growth. Rumors of criminal negligence circulated and racist reporting claimed a jazz dirge on a player piano accompanied the neighborhood's destruction.(1)

When the fire was contained at the T & P's main line, there had been at least two fatalities, nearly 200 homes were destroyed, and some 1200 residents displaced. African-Americans and recent immigrants comprised the majority of the victims. Insurance adjusters reported that only 60% of the losses were covered by policies.(2)

The Southeastern Architectural Archive's Map of the Area Involved in Conflagration at Shreveport, LA (shown above) was issued by the Louisiana Fire Prevention Bureau in New Orleans. We recently discovered it accordion-folded and hidden away inside the binding of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas. The cartographer mapped out the fire's source, the wind direction and all of the "risks" (i.e. structures) that were destroyed.

A recent Washington Post blog addressing racial divides across American cities highlighted Shreveport and it reminded us of our "Conflagration" discovery.

Utilizing Dustin Cable's Racial Dot Map, WP blog authors Emily Badger and Darla Cameron discussed historic transportation arteries in the context of racial segregation.
From Cable's map, we cropped the Allendale fire and surrounding neighborhood in the detail above. Note that Texas Avenue largely follows the perimeter of the old T & P line.

(1)"Negro Apes Nero, Playing Piano as Shreveport Burns." The Times-Picayune 7 September 1925.

(2)"Losers in $700,000 Fire Paid $358,885."  The Times-Picayune 7 October 1925.

Images above:  Two Details, Louisiana Fire Prevention Bureau. Map of the Area Involved in Conflagration at Shreveport, LA. New Orleans, LA:  1925. Fire Insurance Atlases, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Detail. Dustin Cable. Racial Dot Map. Demographics Research Group, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia, 2013.

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