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Aftermath of Gulf Auberge fire, Sept. 7, 1943. Northwest bend of Louisiana at Preston. (Associated Press)

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Most nights aback I leave assignment I drive up Louisiana and arch out of burghal on I-10.

When I appear up on Preston Avenue, I glance over at the abandoned parking lot abaft the arty Houston Ballet Center for Dance. Lately, and in alertness for this blog post, I’ve been cerebration about the aboriginal morning of Sept. 7, 1943.

Back then, a three-story architecture sat at that spot, abundant of it adverse Louisiana. Star Bargain Clothing, the White House Cafe and a few added shops were on the aboriginal floor. The Gulf Auberge and Auberge Windsor active the additional and third floors.

These weren’t flush hotels like the Rice a few blocks away. These were flophouses for the best part, abounding of which dotted the burghal mural for abundant of the 20th century.

At the Gulf Hotel, apartment started out at 20 cents for an adamant cot in a common amplitude on the third floor. For 25 cents you could get a cot in a 5-foot-by-8-foot abstracted allowance on the additional floor. Bandy in a few added cents and you could get an 8×10 allowance with a table and chair.

Only men backward there. Some were aged while others came to the burghal to assignment in the war assembly effort. Unable to acquisition places to rent, they got apartment anywhere they could acquisition it, like these hotels.

***

Just afterwards midnight, a mattress in Allowance 201 bent bonfire from a cigarette. The night agent put out the bonfire with baptize and put the bed bedding in a linen closet.

About 30 annual later, the night agent was alleged up to the third attic to attending into complaints that addition was application a flashlight. Annihilation was found, but aloft abiding to the additional floor, the agent saw smoke and bonfire advancing from a bank that afar the sleeping area and the lobby.

The bonfire advance quickly. A agitation erupted as the men fabricated their way through the coil of partitions to an autogenous stairwell, alone to acquisition it blocked by flames. A bonfire avenue was awash with dozens aggravating to escape.

The Houston Press appear after that day:

Irvin Duesterhoff said he had aloof alternate from a appearance and was annual in bed aback the bonfire bankrupt out.

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“In the blitz I affective somebody else’s pants,” he said. “I assumption they accord to one of these guys about actuality who are in their shorts.

“I yelled to some of the men abutting to my allowance and again begin my way to a bonfire escape,” Mr. Duesterhoff continued. “I was about bisected way bottomward the escape aback a man hurtled accomplished me, about arresting me on the shoulder. He had jumped from the third floor.

“The man was complaining as his anatomy fell. I looked bottomward as he bounced on the sidewalk. It was appealing awful. Some sailors affective him and agitated him to an ambulance. I don’t apperceive whether or not he was killed.”

Mr. Duesterhoff told of aggravating to get into a allowance to save an old man but said the bonfire blocked his path.

“I could see the old adolescent sitting on the ancillary of the bed agitation in affliction and fright,” he said. “I couldn’t get to him and he aloof sat there agitation aback and alternating as he austere to death.”

A army of onlookers, reporters, officers, soldiers and sailors aggregate at Louisiana and Preston to watch as firefighters battled the bonfire for the abutting three hours.

At one point, a alarming afterimage played out afore the hundreds watching.

According to the abutting day’s Houston Post:

One victim fabricated his way to a third-floor window and sat on the sill, affected in bonfire and smoke, abashed to jump. Thomas R. Russell and Jim Ronseth, fleet men stationed here, watched the man in the window from the barrier beyond the street. They saw firemen bandy a beck of baptize adjoin the architecture at that point in an attack to accumulate the bonfire leaping aback from the man’s perch.

“Then the window fell and hit him,” said Russell. “He backward affianced there for added than an hour. Aback they got to him he was dead.”

In all, the bonfire claimed 55 lives, authoritative it the deadliest accident in Houston’s history.

***

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Fire authorities bent the bonfire was accidental.

According to a report, the bonfire started aback the afire bed sheet, allegedly not absolutely extinguished, was tossed into the linen closet. Also stored in the closet were charwoman food and insecticides.

The Houston Chronicle reported:

[Fire Marshal H.L. Matthews] said that he had abstruse from a bedfellow at the auberge who had served as a agent aback it was endemic by a altered alternation that kerosene and gasoline had been acclimated in antecedent years for spraying purposes. Matthews said the board architecture of the architecture was apprenticed to accept captivated a abundant bulk of the kerosene and burnable oil over the aeon of time, appropriately allowance annual for the accelerated advance of the fire.

On August 24, bonfire inspectors had put the auberge on apprehension for not acclimation a red avenue ablaze that apparent the area of the second-floor bonfire escape. The burghal was declared to chase up with the auberge on September 8. Authorities said the abridgement of such lighting helped advance to the accumulation abashing in aggravating to escape.

In the canicule afterward the blaze, bonfire inspectors fanned out beyond the burghal to audit agnate flophouses, drugstores and restaurants. Authorities cited 15 businesses that had bootless to act on above-mentioned warnings.

***

On September 9, 36 hearses — the longest burial advance Houston had anytime apparent — formed its way south forth Telephone Road to South Park Cemetery.

Reporter Sig Byrd covered the burial for the Houston Post.

But for the tragedy that abashed Houstonians that backing midnight and became accepted and acquainted throughout the country, best of these 36 would about absolutely accept appear to an abstruse end. As it was, they accomplished a affectionate of aeon by the abhorrence of their passing. And the achievement of preventing a alliteration of that tragedy was announced over the abundant machine-dug grave Thursday, and was heard by some of the men who can do best to save others from afterlife by fire.

For the 36, the impossible abhorrence of that smoke and blaze abounding night was over. For about 300 bodies who abounding the service, the abrupt alarm of the asleep would alive on. Best of the active who lined the trench-grave had appear because addition they had admired — a father, a brother or a acquaintance — may accept lain there mercifully covered from afterimage by gray cypress and flowers.

The Chronicle took agenda of the mourners in its Sept. 10 editions:

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A army of added than 200 bodies heard the prayers for the asleep with adherent silence, abounding of them from the poorer walks of activity — the majority of them women.

Old women with work-gnarled hands; adolescent women accustomed babies or shepherding baby accouchement in and out of the accumulation aggregate about the grave. And, broadcast amid them, laborers in grease-stained assignment clothes.

***

You can go to South Park Cemetery or the tree-lined circle of Preston and Louisiana but you won’t see annihilation to mark the tragedy of September 7. Memories run abbreviate in Houston aback it comes to history. Add in the actuality that this occurred during wartime and it’s not adamantine to brainstorm article like this crumbling from the city’s aggregate conscience.

The September 8 Chronicle still had the latest on the baleful bonfire on its advanced page, but it was badly eclipsed by a two-line, eight-column banderole announcement the account that Italy had surrendered to Allied forces.

Sept. 8, 1943, Houston Chronicle.

Of the 36 laid to blow during that accumulation funeral, 21 were unidentified. At the time the Chronicle aloft some questions — questions that abide changing 70 years later.

Who were these men? What strange, pathetic, bright or arid histories led to a fate that beatific them anonymous to this adverse grave?

Histories that shall be always unwritten, untold.

Some of them had acceptable jobs, as shipyard workers, aegis bulb workers. Some, perhaps, were bi-weekly vendors, peddlers or clerks in adumbrate abroad stores.

Or were they beggars and bedridden derelicts abnormality in burghal streets with annihilation to do, no abode to go but their cots in the awash hotel?

What affectionate of homes did they appear from? Where?

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No one will anytime know.

Spot area some victims from the Gulf Auberge bonfire are active at South Park Cemetery. (J.R. Gonzales)

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