SEVERAL READERS RESPONDED to the March picture from the past and recognized it as the Aldwell fire.
The fire happened Dec. 12, 1965, at the building on the corner of First and Laurel streets.
According to a Port Angeles Evening News article by Scooter Chapman, the three-story Aldwell Building caught fire sometime around 6 p.m. that Sunday.
It is believed to have started in the Mars Restaurant which was in the basement.
Hugh Mars, owner of the restaurant, heard an explosion before he, his wife and friends came out of the building.
Businesses in the building were Fillion Jewelers, Dr. Charles Raab, Fry Drug, Western Union, J Lyle Beam Real Estate, Laurel Beauty Salon, Sound Realty, Mars Restaurant, Smith Insurance, Dr. Ted Serr, Dr. Keith Thompson, Sunrise Bakery, Retail Clerk’s Union, Olympic Construction, Farm Administration and Attorneys William Conniff, Tyler Moffett, Richard Nichel, Frank Platt, John Wilson, Lee Reynolds, Andrew Severyns, Dana Harper and Stanley Taylor.
In the building next to it were the Toggery, Hollingsworth Dental Lab and the Bonded Collection Agency.
Because of fire doors, the Toggery Building had mostly smoke damage.
The fire roared until after 11 p.m., with many firefighters and volunteers fighting it.
By 3 a.m. Dec. 13, it was considered controlled.
High school students helped move belongings to safety and the Coast Guard personnel dressed in asbestos suits tried to enter the building but the heat was too intense.
The Salvation Army was on the scene at 6:45 a.m. Dec. 13 with coffee for the workers.
Hundreds of sandwiches were made for the firefighting personnel and other volunteers.
The Eagles Lodge and Birneys, Lee Hotel and Harringtons helped with the coffee and sandwiches.
By midnight most of the spectators had returned home but two pumpers remained at the scene.
Ron Wasnock of Bonded Collectors wrote that he would never forget the night he got the call that his office building was on fire.
He said, “One of the most stirring moments involved Louie Fillion’s Jewelry Store. It was not too late to be vacated and numerous spectators from the large crowd began a sort of ‘bucket brigade’ moving the entire stock to the Elks Club and Mel’s Sporting Goods.”
He continued to say his office was upstairs over the Toggery and the flames were contained before they did anything but serious smoke damage to his office.
Several strangers came with hand trucks and moved all of Wasnock’s files to the Elks Club. Even with all his smoke damage it was minor compared to the total losses suffered by all of the other tenants.
Wasnock said that not one item of jewelry was missing from Fillions. It was a tough loss for Fry Drug and the Toggery because they were heavily stocked for the Christmas season. McGee from Fry Drug lost records dating back before 1919.
The Aldwell Building was built in 1906 from sandstone cut from the Valley Creek quarry up Tumwater Valley.
Others who wrote recognizing the photo were Allen Brannin and Margaret Levitan.
Most everyone remembers where they were when this fire occurred.
Many spectators lined the bluff and the hillside staircase.
It took a while before the shell was torn down as insurance adjusters did their work, but it is now a parking lot.
The adjoining building which housed the Toggery is still standing today because it did not have much damage except for smoke.
At the time of the fire, I was living in the Housing Authority’s Circle on Whidby Avenue, which were two-bedroom townhouse units.
The day or so after the fire, new neighbors moved in. It was the Mars family because they had lost their apartment in the fire.
I didn’t get to know them because they were very private people, but it’s just a little bit of history.
I will have one more column that will run May 5 which will be a wrap-up of my 10 years of columns.
If you have anything you would like me to include, please email me at [email protected] or write to me at Alice Alexander 204 W. Fourth St., Apt. 14, Port Angeles, WA 98362 and I will try to incorporate it in my last column.
Alice Alexander is a Clallam County historian, author, and a descendent of an Elwha Valley pioneer family. She is a recipient of a 2014 Clallam County Heritage Awards. She can be reached at [email protected].
Alice’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.