Hotel Roosevelt fire
The Hotel Roosevelt fire, on December 29, 1963, was the worst fire that Jacksonville, Florida, had seen since the Great Fire of 1901, and it contributed to the worst one-day death toll in the city's history: 22 people died, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Hotel Roosevelt (in the foreground), in a 2001 Navy photograph.
|Date||December 29, 1963|
At the time, the Hotel Roosevelt was one of two luxury hotels in the city's downtown, with many restaurants and businesses on its ground floor, including a ballroom and a barber shop. At the end of each year, the Hotel Roosevelt hosted hundreds of travelers who came to attend the Gator Bowl.
Fire and evacuationEdit
The fire started in the ballroom's ceiling. The old ceiling, which was deemed a fire hazard, was not removed when the new ceiling was installed, providing kindling for the fire, which started from faulty wires.
The first call to the Jacksonville Fire Department was made at 7:45 a.m., by hotel doorman Alton Joseph Crowden. Smoke was traveling throughout the 13-story building, and hotel visitors climbed out of the smoky building with the help of other patrons and bedsheets tied together. For some that saw that fire department ladders would not reach them, guests threw mattresses to the ground in an attempt to soften the landing. Guests were warned not to jump by a county patrol officer, who drove on the sidewalk and used his microphone to broadcast; "Don't jump. The firemen, are coming to get you."
Mayor W. Haydon Burns immediately called for assistance from the U.S. Navy, and eight helicopters were flown to downtown from Cecil Field and NAS Jacksonville. The airmen helped the patrons out of the building, and transported them to a nearby parking lot, where ambulances were already waiting.
The fire was extinguished by 9:30 a.m., and it was estimated that nearly 475 people were saved from the burning building. After a day of recovering the dead, firefighters found 20 residents dead in their beds from smoke inhalation. A woman died after attempting to climb to safety from her 11th floor room, but slipped while on the makeshift bedsheets rope she had made. In addition, assistant chief J.R. Romedy collapsed of a heart attack during the initial rescue efforts, and died at the scene.
Aftermath and remembranceEdit
Immediately after the fire many local Jacksonville residents, churches and businesses took in displaced hotel guests, and provided food and clothes to those displaced.
Property damage to the Hotel Roosevelt was immense, and the hotel was closed in 1964, with most of the hotel's businesses and staff relocating to the equally upscale Hotel George Washington. After much renovation, the building was re-opened as a retirement home and the Jacksonville Regency House, which closed in 1989.
The former Hotel Roosevelt, located on Adams Street in downtown, is still standing. The building was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in February 1991. Memorials are still held to remember those who died in the fire; the most recent gathering occurred in December 2003, for the 40th anniversary of the blaze. The building was renovated in recent years and is now known as The Carling, an upscale apartment residence.
The city and fire department were cleared of liability in nearly 40 lawsuits, which were seeking $10 million in damages related to the fire. The ruling by Circuit Judge Marion Gooding, left Hotel Roosevelt Inc and the fire insurer U.S. Fidelity and Guarantee Co. as the targets for damage claims in the fire, and not the city and the insurance company.
- "Tragedy Ends Gator Bowl Fete". Los Angeles Times. AP. December 30, 1963. p. 1. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "Hotel Fire". Los Angeles Times. AP. December 30, 1963. p. 16. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "Report Near in Probe of Hotel Blaze". The Tampa Tribune. AP. January 1, 1964. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "Jacksonville, FL Hotel Roosevelt Fire, Dec 1963". The News Tribune. Fort Pierce, Florida. December 30, 1963. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via gendisasters.com.
- "Fire Cause Is Mystery". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Spokane, Washington. AP. January 1, 1964. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via Google News.
- Soergel, Matt. "Roosevelt Hotel Fire: 22 people died in blaze, but heroes prevented that total from being even higher". The Florida Times. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
- "Hotel Met All Fire Hazard Regulations". The Palm Beach Post. AP. December 30, 1963. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "21 Perish In Hotel Fire In Jacksonville". The Washington Observer. Washington, Pennsylvania. AP. December 30, 1963. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via Google News.
- "Florida Hotel Fire Damage Expected to Be Tremendous". The Times. Shreveport, Louisiana. AP. December 31, 1963. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "Basketball Team Rescued From Florida Hotel Fire". The Times. Shreveport, Louisiana. UPI. December 30, 1963. Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "The Carling". Retrieved December 22, 2017 – via Google Maps.
- "Carling Hotel". nps.gov. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
- Gelbert, Doug. "A Walking Tour of Jacksonville, Florida". douggelbert.com. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
- "50 years ago: Judge absolves city of liability in deadly Roosevelt Hotel fire | Jax Daily Record | Financial News & Daily Record - Jacksonville, Florida". Financial News & Daily Record - Jacksonville, Florida. 2016-05-09. Retrieved 2018-08-30.