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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1525 Minturn Street, The Phoenix House, Part 2

In the first segment of our story about 1525 Minturn Street, we explored the history of this old Queen Anne-style cottage, which was built by renowned local builders and designers Marcuse & Remmel in 1891. It is known as Alameda’s own Phoenix House—so named because it rose from the ashes of a great fire in 2001.

Alameda Post - a sepia photo of 1525 Minturn Street
A vintage photo of 1525 Minturn Street, likely taken close to its original construction date in the 1890s. It is always fortunate when Alameda Treasures like this, built by renowned local architects such as Marcuse & Remmel, survive to the present day, especially when they must rise from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix. Photo Alameda Museum.

More information comes to light

Thanks to research librarian Beth Sibley, more information about the devastating fire of June 27, 2001 has come to light. The sun had barely risen on a cool, windy, 58-degree morning in Alameda when a young man was heard running down Minturn Street, banging on doors and yelling, “Fire!” Nobody knew who the man was, but since most people were asleep at the time the fire started, he may have saved some lives that morning. The fire was first reported at 6:45 a.m., and when firefighters arrived on the narrow, dead-end street, they found flames coming from 1529 Minturn Street and spreading next door to 1525 Minturn Street. High winds fanned the flames, causing embers and intense heat to spread the fire from its source to the neighboring house, and even to a rear storage unit located behind 1710 Lincoln Avenue.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of the firemen fighting the first at 1525 Minturn Street
Newspaper photo of the fire that struck Minturn Street on June 27, 2001. The Alameda Fire Department called in mutual aid from the Oakland Fire Department and other agencies to fight the stubborn blaze. Photo Dean Coppola.

Pajama-clad survivors

As the firefighters got to work, people clad only in pajamas and slippers stood on the sidewalks and sat on stoops, watching their homes and possessions go up in flames. According to Jim Franz of the Alameda chapter of the American Red Cross, who was on hand to assist fire victims, 14 people were left homeless by the fire that affected the two homes. But thanks to the anonymous young man who first noticed the fire and ran around waking everyone up, nobody was injured in the conflagration. According to Franz, the American Red Cross spent about $6,000 assisting the victims, who ranged in age from infants to people in their 70s.



Alameda Post - before and after photos of the fire damage and restoration at the house
A photo collage showing 1525 Minturn Street after the 2001 fire (left) and how it looks today (right). Photos AAPS (left), Steve Gorman (right).

Mutual aid called in

The fire was so intense that it took at least 90 minutes to fully extinguish, as high winds continued to cause new hot spots to flare up. Additional help was called in from the Oakland Fire Department, under terms of a mutual aid pact. The fire was being hosed from several angles and firefighters were up on the porch roof when it suddenly collapsed, causing one firefighter to fall 10 feet to the porch below. That firefighter did not require medical attention. The orange glow from the fires would disappear one minute, only to reappear moments later on another part of a roof or a sidewall of one of the Victorian-era homes. By the time the long battle was over, stunned residents and onlookers were faced with a devastating scene of charred wood, ash, and debris marring their normally peaceful and beautiful block.

Alameda Post - the front of the home
Front view of 1525 Minturn Street, the house that has survived a fire and 132 years standing on this block. When this house was built, Benjamin Harrison was serving as 23rd president of the United States, and the territories of Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii had not yet become states. Photo Steve Gorman.

The aftermath

Acting Fire Chief Tim McNeil said that the fire started at 1529 Minturn Street. An initial investigation suggested that the fire may have ignited due to faulty wiring over a workbench in the north side of the garage behind that home, but a July report from the Alameda Fire Department concluded that the actual cause of the fire could not be determined. Officials ruled out faulty wiring, arson, and a discarded cigarette as possible causes. McNeil said the fire caused $400,000 in damage to the building at 1525 Minturn Street, along with $100,000 in losses to its contents. The home at 1529 Minturn Street experienced $300,000 in damage to the building, along with $100,000 in losses to its contents. Similar losses were incurred to the rear of 1710 Lincoln Avenue and its inventory. At the time, that address on Lincoln Avenue housed the Alameda Discount Center, a business that sold military surplus items. All told, the total damage from the early morning blaze on Minturn Street was estimated at $1.6 million.

Alameda Post - 1710 Lincoln
Looking south across Lincoln Avenue, this is a view of the business located at 1710. Today it houses Alameda Golfworks, but in 2001 it was the Alameda Discount Center, a military surplus store. The back of the building and its storage unit were damaged in the fire, causing significant losses to both the structure and its inventory. Photo Steve Gorman.

A mysterious clue

Police initially thought the fire may have been linked to two explosions that were set off in the neighborhood less than a week prior, including one that occurred on the same block as the fire. On June 21, 2001, a device described by police as an “acid bomb” blew up in a six-inch pipe that connects to the sewer at 1531 Minturn Street. About twenty minutes later, a second bomb blew up in the 1800 block of Hibbard Street. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) assisted Alameda police in the investigation, but ultimately there was no evidence of an accelerant that would have indicated the fire on June 27 was of a suspicious nature. It is not known whether a suspect in the bomb explosions was ever identified.

Alameda Post - 1525 Minturn Street and 1529 Minturn Street
The two Minturn Street homes involved in the fire are seen here, with 1525 at left and 1529 at right. The fire started in a back garage of 1529 Minturn Street and was spread by high winds to 1525 Minturn Street, along with a storage unit behind 1710 Lincoln Avenue. These two beauties could have been lost forever, but thanks to the quick efforts of firefighters and the sustained efforts of the homeowners, these architecturally significant Queen Anne-style cottages were resurrected. Photo Steve Gorman.

A happy ending

Although the events of June 27, 2001, were destructive and potentially tragic, the good news is that everyone survived, including the old, ornate homes at 1525 and 1529 Minturn Street. These two elegant survivors from another age, built by the dynamic duo Marcuse & Remmel, still stand tall and proud today, reflecting the exuberant Queen Anne style of the 1890s while sheltering people of the 2020s. May they continue to do so for another hundred years, and may fire never visit this street again. The fact that so many of our Alameda Treasures have been lost to fire or demolition over the years makes the survivors all the more precious. Get out there and visit them soon—you’ll be glad you did.

Special thanks to Alameda research librarian Beth Sibley for unearthing more information about this 22-year-old fire from the library archives, including an article in the Alameda Journal dated June 29, 2001.

Contributing writer Steve Gorman has been a resident of Alameda since 2000, when he fell in love with the history and architecture of this unique town. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Steve-Gorman.

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