Fire Destroys Valley Arena

by Laurel | September 18th, 2014

13 May 1960

Valley Arena At Height of Blaze

Valley Arena on Fire
At Height of Blaze, Flames from second floor dressing rooms.

Holyoke Sports Center’s Loss Said $200,000 — Owner Does Not Plan to Rebuild Structure —
Only Partly Covered by Insurance — End of Boxing, Wrestling Shows Seen

For the third time in 17 years the Valley Arena, one of the outstanding sports centers of Western New England was wrecked by fire Thursday afternoon. Charred walls and the debris-covered main floor were all that remained of the once popular boxing, wrestling and social center.

Insurance Reduced

Oreal D. Rainault, owner of the arena said Thursday night that his present planning does not include the rebuilding of the building. He estimated that the loss will approximate $200,000 and he placed the estimated rebuilding cost at a half million dollars.

Rainault said part of the loss was covered by insurance, but the part covered was “very small.” When changes were made in the building a few years ago following the arena’s second disastrous fire, Rainault said the wooden panel work was removed from the interior and a concrete floor was constructed replacing the wooden floor. Because of these changes he reduced substantially the insurance coverage on the building.

With the decision of Rainault not to rebuild, boxing and wrestling in this city appears to be at an end. In addition to the weekly sporting attractions there were several large socials planned for the arena and also scheduled to start Sunday, May 22, was the first of the special Sunday performances of name bands.

Fire Chief John J. Conway and Lt. Det. Richard Mahar of the fire marshal’s office started an investigation immediately in the hope of determining the origin of the fire. A state police photographer was called.

Balcony Ablaze

When the first fire companies arrived at the South Bridge St. sports center the entire balcony was ablaze. Deputy Chief William W. Mahoney, in charge of the companies, immediately ordered an alarm turned in and shortly after additional help was called and the off members of Group 2 of the Fire Department were summoned back to duty.

Firemen were unable to enter the building as heavy smoke rolled from the opened doors and it was apparent that the interior of the structure was completely afire. Firemen played lines of hose into the interior from stations on the fire escapes at the side and rear of the building but they were forced away by the blinding smoke and terrific heat.

Realizing that there was imminent danger of the fire spreading beyond the confines of the blazing building and igniting the multi-tenement buildings on either side and across the street from the Arena, Chief Conway summoned help from Springfield, Chicopee and Westfield under mutual assistance plan of the Fire Departments.

Before the arrival of the out of town help, the flames broke through the tar paper roof and burning embers were dropping on the roofs of the surrounding tenement buildings. Policemen ordered the evacuation of some 40 families from the buildings on the north side of the Arena when flames from the roaring inferno began o lick the wooden rear porches.

Three Springfield Companies

The three companies from the Springfield department were in charge of Lt. Arvid G. Anderstom and also with the Springfield contingent was Commissioner Thomas Sampson. Deputy Chief Harry J. Camure was in charge of the two Chicopee companies and Chief John F. Clark was here with a Westfield engine company.

When the full attacking force was in action, over 150 firemen were working at the fire. Twenty lines of hose leading from pumping engines forces streams of ater throuh deck guns and deluge sets in an attempt to drown out the flames. While the fire was at its height firemen had to divert fire lines from the blazing building to throw up water curtains against the tenement buildings, the sides of which became heated from the flames and the wooden window sashes beginning to blister.

An Aerial laffer in the front of the Arena, Which was being used as a water tower, had to be directed from the fire to put water onto the roof of a large tenement building acoss the street when heavy embers fell on the rooftop. Also given a complete wet down was the two and a half story wooden building which houses the Mayfai Tavern directly across the street from the Arena.

The efforts of the firemen succeeded in confining the ire to the arena building thereby averting what could have developed into a conflagration in the South Holyoke District.

Firemen Burned

Tow ambulances from the Holyoke Ambulance Service were at the location throughout the fire and attendants administered oxygen to firement who were overcome by smoke. There were no serious injuries reported but several of the firemen were reported to have suffered hand burns. The Police Department had cruisers in the area throughout the fire and the police patrol was used to replenish tanks of oxygen from a supply station.

The arena was used Wednesday night for a wrestling show and owner Rainault said that the show was completed and all patrons were out of the place by 11. He added that there was no one in the arena during the morning hours.

Sam Cote of 568 South East Street, caretaker, went tot he place shortly before 2 Thursday afternoon. He was to open the place to permit the delivery of beer and upon entering detected the odor of smoke. He thought at first that the smoke was coming from one of the tenement building incinerators by way of ventilating ducts but when he entered the main auditorium he could see the flames in the balcony section He ran across the street and telephoned fire headquarters.

Deputy Chief Mahoney, who was in charge of the first companies to arrive, was also in charge of the first companies when the arena was wrecked by fire in December of 1952. Without any delay Mahoney summoned more apparatus when he ordered a box alarm sounded and upon the arrival of Chief Conway the additional help was summoned.

Shortly after the firemen entered the building the entire balcony was ablaze and during the fire four sections toward the north side fell to the main floor. Soon the fire struck the laminated wooded beams and then the flames broke through burning embers to the roofs of nearby buildings. Policemen threw up fire lines in the area of Hamilton and Sargeant Sts. and the thousands of spectators who were attracted tot he scene by the clouds of smoke rolling over the city were kept at a safe distance from the blazing building.

Firemen attacked the fire from both front and rear and the north and south sides and when flames shot out from the rear of the building firemen had to retreat frm the ire escapes and take up positions on the roof of garages in the alleyway from which they directed water streams.

The fire was brought under complete control within two and a half hours but fire companies remained at the scene to guard against any further outbreak.

The arena was originally a gas holder of the Municipal Gas and Electric Department. Some years ago the gas holder was sold to an organization headed by the late Homer Rainault, boxing promoter and uncle of the present owner. The circular design of the building eas retained and the front entrance and other features were added before the building eas opened as the Valley Arena.

Two Earlier Fires

Shortly after 2 the morning of June 13, 1942, a general alarm fire broke out in the building and damage, according to Fire Department records, in the amount of $103, 810 resulted. In the rebuilding program the second balcony was removed and the place has since operated with one balcony and the main floor seats.

The second disastrous fire at the Arena happened at 6 the morning of Dec. 26, 1952, when the building had been leased to the Kane Bros. of Virginia. this fire, which did damage in the amount of $139,840, broke out in the Pine Room, a night club located in the basement of the building. the employees of the nightclib had been guests of the management at a Christmas party and the fire was discovered shortly after the party broke up.

It appears certain now that the Valley Arena has now been written into history and that Holyoke as a boxing center is likewise at its end.

Adapted from The Springfield Union.

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