City Desk

Blaze and Means: D.C.’s Worst Fires

On June 5, a four-alarm fire all but destroyed Frager’s Hardware, one of Capitol Hill’s most beloved stores. The blaze, the District’s largest since a fire destroyed a Mount Pleasant apartment building in 2008, is hardly the first to take out a local institution. Here’s a look at the causes and costs of several other major fires—from museums to politicians’ favorite bars—that hit the District in recent years.

Tune Inn
June 22, 2011
Cause: Kitchen fire
Damages: $75,000 to 100,000. The taxidermy was spared.
Eulogy: “It is a dark day on Capitol Hill when the Tune Inn is out of commission even temporarily. It is at least as important an institution as the Supreme Court.”—New York Times reporter Carl Hulse
Current status: Reopened in November 2011 to rave reviews for the new decor

Georgetown Library
April 30, 2007
Cause: Construction worker’s heat gun
Damages: $18 million, not including the loss of priceless objects like an 18th century newspaper reporting on the Declaration of Independence
Eulogy: “I’ve always feared this would happen. I’ve always thought: If there was a fire, what would I grab first?”—Jerry McCoy, librarian and archivist, to the Washington Post
Current status: Fully operational with a larger Peabody Room as of October 2010

Eastern Market
April 30, 2007
Cause: The trash compactor’s faulty electrical wiring
Damages: $22 million
Eulogy: “It reeked of a century of sour milk and fish and fried food.”—Post
Current status: Fully restored andoperational as of June 2009

Peggy Cooper Cafritz’s house
July 29, 2009
Cause: Paper towels soaked in linseed oil in a plastic bag
Damages: $5 million in property damage, plus the loss of Cafritz’s collection of more than 300 African-American artworks
Eulogy: “Going inside that house was a delight and a privilege—it was so alive and filled with meaning.”—O the Magazine, which ran a feature on the house online nine days before it burned down
Current status: Never rebuilt

Capitol Lounge
Aug. 25, 2005
Cause: Smoldering cigarette in a trash can
Damages: $2 million, including lost revenue
Eulogy: “It may only be bricks and mortar, but the place has a soul and we will not let it die.”—owner Joe Englert to DCist
Current status: Reopened in December 2005, still operational

Phillips Collection
Sept. 2, 2010
Cause: Related to roof renovation work
Damages: An estimated but unconfirmed $250,000; the art was unharmed
Eulogy: “If there had been any damage to the artworks, you’d be speaking to the very upset director right now.”—Director Dorothy Kosinski to the Post

Current status: Reopened two days later

Mount Pleasant Deauville apartment fire
March 13, 2008
Cause: Unknown
Damages: Estimated $10 million;
Eulogy: “This building is such a centerpiece on Mount Pleasant Street. Having it like this is blight of the worst order.”—Councilmember Jim Graham to the Post
Current status: Poised to begin reconstruction after securing a building permit this week

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • name

    Also the Argonaut.

    It's amazing how many of Joe Englert's properties have fires. I'm sure is insurer is thrilled to have him.

  • Cheryl Northeast

    If you add up all the years Joe Englert has been in business....times years each restaurant/tavern has been around...you get to 120-135 years. All old buildings, all dealing with Pepco's subpar wiring and substations. A fire every 30 or so years is not alot, name.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Agreed on the Argonaut. How could you leave that off while including Cap Lounge?

...