Throwback Thursday: When the Revere House Hotel Burned

Bowdoin Square was once more than a stop on the Blue Line.

Shortly before 2 a.m. one January morning in 1912, a small fire started in the basement of the Revere House hotel in Boston’s Bowdoin Square. Half an hour later, it engulfed the historic building.

In the 1800s, Bowdoin Square was filled with the homes of Boston’s wealthy. Gradually, it became an urban center. In the middle of the 19th century, the Revere House was built on a site where a Boston merchant’s house once stood. The upscale establishment quickly became a prestigious destination for visitors, hosting a series of notables, including three U.S. presidents, Edward VII,  and Charles Dickens. That all ended the night of the fire, of course.

The New York Times ran a rather poetic account of the fire, given how frequently newspaper reporters must write a quick account of such things:

[The fire] quickly ate its way to the elevator shafts. It roared up the tubes as up so many chimneys, the shafts providing a fine draft, which fanned the fires at their bottoms into a regular column of flames. The fire mushroomed out on the various floors, spreading in this way through all five floors and the attic of the building, so that to the hurriedly awakened occupants it seemed as though the entire place were a bed of flames.

The rescues sounded like a horrifying scene. When the stairs became impassable, roughly half of the 200 guests remained inside, and so men and woman had to be carried down ladders. By morning, 12 people were still missing, thought to be buried in the rubble. One fireman had fallen to his death. The Times reported:

The old pile of brick and stone which was the Revere House, is a mass of flaming, smoking ruins at 2:30 this morning, and any of the twelve missing ones who were trapped in the building must now be buried beneath tons of debris.

Fast-forward 100 years or so, and there’s not much to evoke what happened there. Bowdoin Square is a bit of a misnomer, known mostly because of the stop so-named on the Blue Line. The Boston Globe bemoaned its fate in a 2006 story, describing its current state:

[It is] not a square, but an asphalt traffic interchange. In the middle is a low wing of the State Service Center, a pile of rough concrete conceived by architect Paul Rudolph. On the left, a recent office building fills what formerly was a drab open space. On the far right is the nearly windowless New England Telephone and Telegraph Building.