Madison Park Apartments, 1972

While the tower of the First Congregational Church featured in yesterday’s post dominates this photo, what really caught my eye was the graceful Second Empire-style Madison Park Apartments on the right. It was completed in 1908 on the southeast corner of SW Park at Madison Street. A fire in December 1972 killed two people and extensively damaged the building. It was demolished in 1974.

(University of Oregon Libraries)

12 thoughts on “Madison Park Apartments, 1972

  1. I did a little research through the articles of the Oregonian and discovered there was a rash of arson fires in the months leading up to the Madison Park apartment fire. It was determined that this fire was started in the early morning hours of December 7, 1972 by an arsonist by way of a trash can fire in a basement stairwell close to the gas meters. Three victims were found on the top floor (I include the seeing-eye service dog of a blind woman who succumbed). The other human victim was a retired psychologist who was found near the fire escape.

    Two days later another arson fire struck the Westover Apartments. No fatalities resulted from that fire.

    Within two months there were 25 arson fires in the downtown area. A 22 year old man who lived in the Franklin Apartments was arrested near the end of December and charged with two fires. One at the Alder Apartments on SW 12th and the other at the Franklin Apartments (on 11th IIRC). I don’t know if he was subsequently charged with any other arsons during that time.

    On December 17th, an unrelated fire struck the Stelwyn Apartments mentioned by frequent commentor, Chuck. All the residents were evacuated safely, including Governor Tom McCall’s 84 year old mother. This fire was not started by arson. Instead, it was started when 24 year old Bill Gates emptied his ash tray into a trash bag under his kitchen sink. The fire flashed through and climbed the interior of the building wall. I have no idea if this was the famous Bill Gates.

    In an interesting aside, the firefighters at the Stelwyn apparently moved furniture, artwork and collectibles to the center of the rooms and covered them with plastic to protect them from water damage.

    I’d include a link to the articles, but the Oregonian archives I have access to via my library card are subscription only. I highly recommend obtaining your own card through the Multnomah County Library’s main office or through one of its satellite sites. It’s free and not limited to residents of Multnomah County.

  2. The Bill Gates of the Stelwyn fire is not the Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. The eventual billionaire was only 17 at the time of the fire and didn’t graduate from his Seattle prep school until 1973.

    At least that’s what his Wiki page currently says… 😉

  3. I leaved with my parents and sister at the Madison from 1955 to 1959 as my parents managed the apartments. I was 6 when we moved there and my sister was 13. We were the only children to live in the apartments as it was only an adult apartment building. It was an amazing building with wounderful wood work, pocket doors, sky lights on the 5th floor, and the marble entrance with the phone to buzz the apartment. The people that lived there was something right out of a movie. I have great memories of living there and going over to the park blocks and getting worms to go fishing with my dad. There was also a chestnut tree out front and a man would pick the chestnuts and roast them and sale them to people walking by.

  4. Thanks to those who posted photos of this lovely old building. I was living there when it burned down in 1972. I was a student at PSU at the time. It was a great place to live – my older sisters had also lived there as students a few years before I did. I loved going there to visit them when I was a high school kid, and I think for that reason I wanted to live there, too. Since this year marks 40 years since the fire, the place has been on my mind.

  5. I lived in the Stelwin. The furniture was amazing. It was the best time of my life! Mrs. Failing was so generous to my husband and myself. We were newlyweds and had little or nothing. Our furniture was the most beautiful antiques. She told me it had been an exclusive Jewish hotel in the ’20’s when parts of Portland were restricted. The occupants could be characters in a novel! Loved it!

  6. I lived in the Madison and to the best of my knowledge, i was the first to call the fire department. I was up late sewing on a project. I ran up and down the 2nd and 1st floor banging on doors screaming to get out, Fire!! Little did I know the fire escapes were so cold they could not open, some people jumped. I actually saw the flames coming up from the basement, before someone hauled me out the front door. (no shoes) I recall watching as the garments I had sewn, which were hung on the curtain rod window, billowed out once as the glass broke and then the flames crawled up the garments and the curtains. It was creepy mesmerizing to watch the fire take over the building with such devastating affect. I think of this building and that experience often. I am very glad I was young and starting over was so easy, but I vividly recall talking with an older lady who’s lifetime of memories were lost. I learned that day, that there is always much to be thankful for.

  7. Back to the lovely steeple on the first Congregational Church, remember it was taller before the Columbus day storm. When it received extensive damaged, and was not restored to the same height. It’s still wonderful now. Does anyone have a picture of it before Oct. 12, 1962?

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