This week, our post comes from museum intern Cassie Jenkins. All quotes are from the Iron County Record and the Mayors of Cedar City by Evelyn and York Jones.
At 2:00 a.m., 25 of March, 1962, the worst fire in Cedar City’s history broke out. Affecting seven buildings located on the south end of main street, it caused over one million dollars in damage and destroyed property of at least seven businesses. Those companies most heavily affected include Barton Floral, Hugh’s Café, L & R Pool Hall and Recreation Center, Leigh Furniture and Carpet Co., Leigh Hotel & Apartments, Dr. M. F. Burgess Optometrist, and Yoder Jewelry.
Devon Reeves, manager of the Leigh apartments, another occupant, Jack Wood, and two other unidentified occupants from out of town were woken by the blaze and met in the hall at the same time. They set to waking everyone else by knocking on doors to get people out from the third story in nothing more than their bedclothes.
Across the street, Lucile Gubler, night clerk of the Lunt Hotel, smelled the smoke. After stepping outside, she was the first to call the Cedar City fire department. Soon, help arrived from the neighboring towns of Parowan and St. George. At least 15 men of the Cedar city volunteer fire department, 12 from St. George, and 22 from Parowan were available to help. Iron County Jeep Patrol was called as well to help with the fire and control the activity on Main Street. Hundreds of citizens also assisted in any way possible. “A group of students from College of Southern Utah…came into play and were atop roofs on the west side, assisting with water and by stomping out sparks and large pieces of burning material that was dropping in that vicinity”. A main concern was the Sinclair service station and the damage it could cause if the fire had been allowed to spread to the pumps and underground gas storage. “Assistance of these volunteer units was credited by most observers as being responsible for controlling the fire and keeping it away from a service station, located adjacent to the buildings on the south.”
Shortly after discovery, the heat from the flames and pressure from the smoke had caused windows to explode and within minutes, the entire structure was covered by flames. At its height, the fire could be seen in Summit, 12 miles to the north, and 5 five to the south on the road past Hamilton Fort. The flames reached hundreds of feet in the air and sent debris throughout more than a two block radius. Main Street was roped off and restricted to only those assisting in fighting the fire. Sunday afternoon, the flames had died down and wives of the volunteers came with food as the last embers were being put out.
The four buildings affected were located at south end of Main Street near where Lin’s grocery store stands today. In the heart of the business district, the businesses were, even in 1962, considered old. Owned by W. H. Leigh Real Estate Company, the Leigh furniture building was built in 1902 and Leigh hotel in 1929. Seven separate businesses ran operations there: Barton Floral, Hugh’s Café, L and R Pool Hall and Recreation Center, Leigh Furniture and Carpet Co., Leigh Hotel and Apartments, Dr. M. F. Burgess Optometrist, and Yoder Jewelry. While Hugh’s Café and Yoder Jewelry had only been at that location since 1958, several had been there for more than a decade.
All of businesses involved suffered heavy losses. Control efforts were concentrated closest to Barton Floral which therefore suffered the least amount of losses and most merchandise was salvaged. Fred Yoder of Yoder Jewelry retrieved records and some merchandise and Burgess Optical didn’t suffer complete losses. Leigh furniture and Hugh’s Café, however, were left with nothing.
Though the Leigh Hotel and Apartments were completely destroyed, Mr. Reeves recovered a metal box housing valuable papers and cash. Elaine Petty, also of the Leigh Apartments, recovered $66 from the rubble. A brick had fallen on her piggy bank, covering the money, and leaving it wet but in good shape.
At the outbreak of the fire, it was believed that it may have started in the rest room facilities of Hugh’s Café. Through interviews, it was determined that there were not sufficient materials stored in the rest rooms to cause such a fire.
Dallen Williams, Iron County Deputy Sheriff, and Steve Kennedy of the National Board of Fire Underwriters indicated that by March 29, a total of 240 man hours were spent on the investigation. “It was determined that an employee of Leigh Furniture Co. was smoking in a prohibited area the day before the fire where it was determined that an excessive amount of inflammable materials were located ‘that could have smoldered for hours before bursting in to flames’.” Evidence proved that the fire was started in the basement where the employee had smoked and he was to be prosecuted through court for smoking in a prohibited area.
By the end of the same week, all the businesses were relocated with the exception of the Leigh Hotel and Apartments. Leigh furniture, using stock from its warehouse, was in operation at the Southwest Livestock Pavilion on North Main Street. They soon rebuilt and by November had moved to a larger building on 200 N. The building still stands in Cedar City and has been the home of many furniture companies in years since.
L and R Pool Hall and Recreation, renamed Pat and Mike’s Lounge, also remained on Main Street. Burgess Optical opened soon after the fire on the second floor of the Bulloch Building, above Bulloch Drug Store and Bulloch’s Café. Yoder Jewelry was given space at the Indian House. Mr. Yoder was not able to find a permanent location on Main Street but moved to a space a few blocks away on Harding Avenue.
Barton Floral and Hugh’s Café made arrangements with the El Escalante Hotel. Hugh’s Café was run in the hotel’s kitchen and dining area and Barton’s Floral from the sun porch. Soon though, both had again found new locations on North Main Street. By June, Hugh’s had remodeled the former location of Auto Parts Company and in October, Barton Floral moved into a new building between the Indian House and the Lockhart Building.
Throughout the weeks following the fire, the local newspaper, the Iron County Record, was littered with personal ads from those affected. Mr. and Mrs. D. W. Corry thanked those that fought the fire for saving their building and business as well as other individuals for “protecting [their] interests and restoring [their] office to order” while they were gone. Gardner and Burns expressed appreciation to those that had helped them remove books and files from their office in case their fire spread to their street and Mr. and Mrs. John Wood and Son hoped to be able to “return the many fine acts that were shown [them]”.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Ora Smith, the occupants of Leigh Hotel and apartments, and the Cedar City Fire Department. The W. H. Leigh Real Estate Company thanked those that had patronized the hotel throughout the years and offered refunds to those people that had paid advanced rent.