Shattered Lives

Feb. 14-15, 1907
Los Angeles

An 11:30 a.m. blast caused by an accumulation of gas shattered the Rawson building at 114 W. 2nd St. in an explosion blamed on a gas company employee who struck a match to check the meter. Four people were killed immediately while three more died of their injuries and 30 were hurt, some of them so badly that their crushed limbs were amputated.

The explosion killed two waitresses, La Von Meyers and Annie Crawford; retired farmer John W. Main; and tailor J.M.C. Fuentes. Charles G. Haggerdy, who worked in a tailor shop, died a few days later of his injuries, as did janitor Ferdinand Stephen.

Waitress May Anderson, 25, who also worked at the Anchor Laundry, lingered for months before she died. “Although she suffered excruciating pain, she bore up bravely,” The Times said. “The doctors and nurses said that only her grit kept her alive. She realized that she could not live, however, and her great regret was that she would have to part from her mother, a devoted and constant attendant at the hospital cot.”

Mr. Cressaty, the restaurant proprietor, said it was only after he made a series of complaints to the Los Angeles Gas and Electric Co. that Harvey A. Holderman came to inspect the meter and called for assistance.

“It is at this point that stories conflict,” The Times says. “It was asserted by some of the restaurant employees who escaped that [Charles J.] Blumenthal or Holderman lit a match to make an inspection under the floor of the supposed leaky pipes. They had already turned off the gas at the main.”

Although gas company officials denied that the workers struck a match, one company employee testified at the inquest that inspectors sometimes used matches for illumination because they didn’t have flashlights.

A fund drive to aid victims of the explosion raised nearly $10,000 ($205,235.70 USD 2005).

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Notes from the Hydrocarbon Front

July 19, 1907
Los Angeles

After Doheny hit oil near (what’s now) Dodger Stadium back in ’92, Los Angeles went brea-happy, depressing world oil prices with its outstanding production and eventually producing 3/4 of the world’s supply after the 20s hits in Wilmington, Dominquez Hills, Huntington and Long Beach, et al.

In 1907 everybody was getting into the act. Including the mayor. Mayor A. C. Harper has announced the formation of the Los Angeles-Utah Oil Company, the other directors of the corporation a coterie of mayoral cronies picked from the Police and Fire Commissions, and, interestingly, there’s a Councilman by the name of Clampitt. The Mayor has been spending much of his time not in City Hall, but in his new oil company offices at the Bank of Commerce, across from the Times building. (Though "Clampitt" should be a propitious name in the oil production game, Utah’s Virgin Valley field never really pans out–which taught the mayor not to go wildcatting outside of LA [or perhaps their failings were due to the misspelling of Clampett.])

Meanwhile, a grassroots movement has started in the Seventh Ward to throw oil refineries and storage tanks out of the city in and into the country. The Eighth Ward, also known for tanks with 500+ barrel capacity (21,000 gallons) has joined in to make noise about a tank’s ability to incinerate large swaths of the city should a refinery explode. (Of course, it was the location of these tanks that brought manufacturing and worker’s housing to southeastern Los Angeles in the first place.)

While everyone was worried about being blown up by oil storage tanks, today one Ernest Malcom, of the Los Angeles City Dye Works, was cleaning a suit of clothes in some distillate…when there was a tremendous flash and a roar. He was thrown thirty feet backward and into a door, which gave way and he tumbled into the street uharmed. A series of tremendous inflammable cleaning fluid explosions incinerated the rest of the building, although firefighters were able to save the surrounding houses.