By 1916, the streets of Concord’s downtown were a study in contrasts. Modern buildings of concrete, marble, or stone stood among the wooden structures of the 19th century, serving as a visual representation of the changing pace of business.
No one could have foreseen the impact that a single event in 1917 would have on the entire community.
This event, Concord’s greatest disaster, struck the heart of the city on the morning of April 25, 1917. At 2 A.M., the cook of the Concord Inn discovered a fire burning rapidly in the rear of the building. He sounded the alarm, roused the sleeping guests, and ran to the fire house, only half a block away. The fire bell rang. Quickly the hose carts arrived, and the firemen and their volunteers began pouring water on the flames and helping those inside to escape. Among the victims who lost their possessions in the blaze were owner Melvin E. Lyon and his family (who had just moved into the hotel), Manager D. H. Chambers and his wife, and school teachers Agnes Hoey, Ruth Hunting, Mary Knight and Isabelle Brown.
Two waitresses, Nettie Dean and Beatrice Arthur, were trapped in a room and overcome by smoke. They were rescued by firemen, led by Guy Berger, the hotel clerk, and carried to safety.
Fortunately, although there was enormous property damage, no lives were lost.
Fire departments had to be summoned from Martinez, Bay Point, Antioch, Avon, Cowell, Walnut Creek, and Oakland as the fire raged on. The valiant firefighters saved many valuables and a curious assortment of items, mostly from the first floor. Several pieces of lobby furniture were carried out: a solid mahogany upright player piano, a mahogany roll top desk, a few dishes and silver, and two trunks, one empty!
The fire spread to the adjoining buildings, the corner Bank of Concord and on down Salvio Street. Store owners and friends worked feverishly, pulling goods out to the sidewalks. Postmaster C. H. Guy saved the records and safe from the post office. As the Neustaedters hauled their goods to the street, they could hear loud pops as their canned goods, stored in the rear of the store, exploded in the heat. Etta Neustaedter Kasch recalled how the merchants stood guard over their belongings all night to protect them from pilferage. The interiors of nearby homes were brightly lit by the fire. In Louis Mangini’s words: “It looked as though the whole world was on fire!”
In spite of the efforts of the firemen, two entire blocks, except for the January building at the end of Salvio Street and the Martin home at the end of Mt. Diablo Street were destroyed. The total loss was estimated at $200,000, a huge sum at that time. Only a small amount was covered by insurance.
Businesses destroyed included the Concord Inn, the Post Office, the Bank of Concord, the Concord Mercantile Company, B. Neustaedter’s Store, M. C. Meehan’s Hardware Store, Mrs. S. A. Fletcher’s Modiste, a pool room operated by C. DeBenedetti, and the offices of Louis Martin, D.D.S., Edward E. Johnson, M.D., and attorney A. S. Sherlock, which were on the second floor of the bank building.