Friday, February 01, 2013

The Kubitshek Block fire of 1965

The U.S. Bank (formerly First State Bank) drive-up is located on a site occupied first by Chariton's largest early hotel, the Hatcher House, and then by the substantial Kubitshek Block (below), destroyed by fire in 1965.

Those of us who hang out at the "If you grew up in Chariton, Iowa, you remember ...." Facebook page (more than a thousand) have spent quite a bit of time now and then trying to remember businesses located in that big old building on the southwest corner of the square where the U.S. Bank drive-up now is located.

I remember the Chariton Barber Shop, where my dad and I used to go to get haircuts, and the fact my mother boarded for at least a year in an upstairs apartment in what was known officially as the Kubitshek Block while attending high school, as country girls often did during the 1930s. Her experience as a city girl ended when her younger brother, Richard, started high school and it was deemed more practical to let the two of them (along with assorted cousins) drive daily to and from town.

There's an earlier post here about the history of the Kubitshek Block, but I had forgotten the details of the 1965 fire that took it down --- the most recent and hopefully last major blaze on the square. I was a freshman at the University of Iowa at the time, so really don't remember it. So here's a transcript of 1965 Herald-Patriot reporting on that event.

Area Departments Called to Assist
Chariton Herald-Patriot, April 1, 1965

Fire early Wednesday (March 31, 1965) guted a Chariton tavern and virtually destroyed a two-story business and apartment building on the southwest corner of the downtown square.

It was estimated that replacement cost of the building would exceed $200,000. Actual value of the structure has not been estimated. Owners reported partial insurance coverage.

Chariton volunteer firemen were alerted by night policemen Walter Hawkins and Adam Caylor, who spotted smoke coming from the rear of Pat and Bill's Tavern about 3:15 a.m.

Chariton volunteer firemen were assisted by the Russell, Williamson, Lucas and Corydon departments in fighting to bring the blaze under control.

Police routed apartment tenants occupying the second floor while firemen began pouring water through the front and rear of he tavern, already spouting flames several feet outside the building.

Residents of eight apartments over the quadruple-front brick building lost furniture, clothing and most of their personal possessions.

Business places occupying the building included the tavern, the Iowa Liquor Store, the Chariton Barber Shop, Charles Beauty Shop, the Norge Launderama and a photography studio in the basement occupied by Dwight Oliver. The real estate office of Jess Umbenhower, located on the second floor, also was destroyed.

Forced from the building were Phane Hibbs, Mrs. Leona Anderson and her son, Mrs. Mae Gibbs, Floyd Bingaman, Mrs. Catherine Rivers, Mrs. Eva Rahn, Mrs. Blanche Adams and Marilyn Sanders.

Red Cross representatives indicated that only one or two of the tenants have insurance on their household goods. Emergy assistance is being provided and the Red Cross said it will work with the victims until they are re-established in new living quarters.

An office on the second floor, formerly occupied by the Lucas County Selective Service, was vacant. It was being used by the building owners, Edmond Stone & Sons, for storage.

Phane Hibbs, one of the apartment residents, owned the building in which the laundry and apartment of Mrs. Adams was located.

The fire was concentrated in the tavern and spread quickly to rooms directly above as firement arrived. The major blaze was brought under control but fire spread through the entire second floor area, making its way in subflooring and between walls.

Portions of the roof caved in and windows on both levels exploded from intense heat.

Firemen were hampered about daylight by low water pressure which developed as the three pumper units exhausted the supply in one of the city's storage towers. Pumps were started at the city reservoir to keep the supply available.

The fire trucks each pump at a rate of 750 gallons a minute while the reservoir line to the city brings in only 650 gallons at maximum operation.

The blaze was attracting scores of spectators by dawn and large crowds were at the scene throughout the day Wednesday. Firemen halted watering down of the building in mid-afternoon.

City officials placed a 24-hour police watch on the building Wednesday night to discourage vandalism or theft.


Cause of the fire was undetermined as of this (Thursday) forenoon, fire chief Allan Larrington said. The fire broke out in Pat and Bill's Tavern and was raging out of control by the time firemen could get equipment into operation.

Mr. and Mrs. Billl DeBord, owners of the tavern, had announced Tuesday that the business had been sold with the new owner to take possession today.


The building destroyed by fire Wednesday was built in 1896 by Jake Kull and Jake Yengel, cousins, who had the four-front commercial property constructed as a co-op income property. {Note: This reporting is inaccurate. The Kubitshek Block was built by Henry Kubitshek and Jake Yengel. The Kubitshek family owned three-quarters of the building into the 1920s; Yengel owned his quarter somewhat longer.)


Plans for re-opening of the Chariton Barber Shop on the south side of the square in a new location have been announced.

Barbers have rented the building formerly occupied by Woodie's TV and expect to be ready for business no later than next Monday.


Representatives of the Iowa Red Cross and the Lucas county chapter were on the scene early Wednesday to assist the fire victims in locating new residences and in replacing lost belongings.

Marv Hersey, state relations representative for the Red Cross, and Ralph Scroggs, director of safety services for Polk county, have established an office at the city hall. They plan to remain on the scene for the next several days.

Mrs. Ed Curtis and Kenneth Crist, county chapter officers, along with chapter chairman Ron Stierwalt and disaster chairman Howard Hilburn, were assisting in the relief work.

The Red Cross is seeking information on low-rent apartments which may be available in Chariton for the fire victims. Keith Fielding is receiving the information.


There will be no "fire sale" of the stock of the Chariton store of the Liquor Commission, officials said today in reporting that the loss due to Wednesday's fire would be "comparatively little." Some patrons of the store had been humorously speculating on such a sale.

A Commission spokesman said that they had several "generous" tongue-in-cheek offers to store the stock in proviate basements but a truck picked up the stock this morning and returned it to the Des Moines warehouse. There it will be inspected and when a new location can be obtained it will be returned to the Chariton store.

The only apparent loss was from some broken bottles. This occurred when water soaked the bottom case where cases were stacked. When the paper case collapsed it permitted the stack to fall.

Principal Commission activity today was the attempt to find a new location, at least temporarily.

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