2001-09-08 / Columnists

Historical Views by Emil Lucev

A few weeks after the close of the 1909 summer season, with 48 guests till staying at the large Holmehurst Hotel in Arverne (not Edgemere, as printed on this postcard), the edifice erupted into flames – with an onshore breeze blowing.

In 50 minutes, despite the efforts of firefighters from all of the houses in Rockaway, all that was left standing was the chimney. The total loss came to $100 thousand and the cause was unknown. Arson was suspected, however.

A watchman discovered the fire at 2 a.m. at the southern end of the hotel, nearby the bathhouse. The Inn was at the beach end of Seaview Avenue (now, Beach 63 Street).

Maude Van Buren Holmes, the proprietress of the hotel, was immediately notified by the alert watchman and she immediately set off the fire gong system in the hotel.

Confusion set in as the guests were rudely awakened by fire gongs sounding at 2 a.m. They all made it out, however, by exiting through the smoke-filled corridors to stairways at the north end of the hotel. Others used the metal fire escapes on the structure. The unbelievable fact was that there were no injuries.

While Mrs. Holmes was alerting the guests, William Van Buren turned in the alarm to the Arverne Firehouse. Upon their arrival, a second alarm was turned in. All the firemen could do, however, was prevent sparks and embers from firing up surrounding buildings such as the monster Colonial Inn, just a block away. Also threatened were surrounding homes, many of which took in the guest who had left the hotel.

The guest owed their lives to the quickness of sounding the hotel alarms. The structure was only partially covered by insurance and was never rebuilt.

The Inn was "L" shaped with a Spanish-style architecture. It was 150 feet long and 80 feet wide. A twelve-foot wide veranda fronted on Seaview Avenue. Up to 160 guests could be comfortably accommodated by the hotel.

Up until 1908, the Cottage Hotel stood on the Arverne site. After this building was lost to fire, the Holmehurst was built.

Arson was suspected in both fires. The best was yet to come, however, for the Great Arverne Fire was only 13 years away.

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