Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Night They Almost Burned Old Binghamton Down

A Soggy, Not So Jolly, Christmas for Downtown Binghamton.
I delayed posting this because I was hoping to get some pictures from someone, but I probably won't be getting the pictures until next week.

Downtown Binghamton could have burned down Tuesday night.

That's an exaggeration, but not as much as an exaggeration as one might think.

The headlines could have been "The Midtown Mall, the Perry Building and the Press Building burnt down Tuesday night, along with the old Strand Theatre, and other buildings on once-historic Chenango Street".  It would have served Binghamton right.  This city has a long track record of disrespecting its heritage.  Strong words?  Well, let's see.  How about the O'Neill/Ross Building, demolished several years ago in two stages after many years of vacancy and neglect - and the destruction of almost all of their Green Men.

And, let's not forget the Alms House, demolished earlier this year, unwanted by Broome Community College? (not downtown, but not completely off topic.)

So why not some instant urban renewal?

However, please don't cry just yet, Binghamton. We will get through this.  (I hope).

Why didn't the block go?  Because, to be blunt, they knew how to build in those days.

Thankfully, no one was hurt.  And a lot of spectators enjoyed watching the firefighters labor through a cold night of fire fighting.  (I arrived about 7:15 am on my way to work, and I will blog about it another time.).  But one wall of the Press Building (former office and plant of our local newspaper, and the second tallest building in Binghamton) has a lot of broken windows and blackened walls - it had just been renovated itself.

So much for student housing on Court Street, at least for now.  Downtown was depending so much on that for revival.

It's deja vu all over again. 
This is far from the first time fire has struck downtown.

About two weeks ago, I was privileged to view some photos of turn of the century (early 20th century, that is) downtown Binghamton, taken from around 1898 to 1913.  I still hope to get those pictures from a person who got them from the family.  The pictures have no copyright and I am assured they can be shared freely.

Three of the pictures deal with fire.  One fire wasn't all that far from Tuesday's blaze, another one was further down on Court Street.  Some things never change; these fires were a spectator sport too.  Just change the clothing and get rid of the color film.....

And then there was the third picture.  Dressed in long dresses and heavy wool suits, the long procession wound down Court Street to honor the victims of another fire that afternoon day of July, 1913:  the 33 dead in the Binghamton Clothing Company fire, which I blogged about last year.

Thankfully, this fire caught at night.  What caused it?  We still don't know.

But it wasn't fun breathing in that smoke at work yesterday.

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