Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – After the Loraine Hotel Fire, A Hope For Another Hotel Was Announced
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
On December 19th, 1949, just weeks after the infamous Loraine Hotel fire engulfed the corner of Main and Lee, the owner of said property announced his hope for another grand hotel. “Modern hotel may arise from ashes of Loraine – Nick Douvas hopes to begin building structure April 1.”
Nick Douvas found two types of structures to consider in place of the previous hotel. With the modern design, Douvas suggested either “a streamlined, modernistic 3-story containing from 100 to 110 rooms with a modernistic cafe and large dining room on the ground floor” or “a combination hotel-motel type with approximately 40 rooms, cafe, and dining room facilities.”
In order to rebuild, Douvas stated he needed to purchase additional property that adjoined the Loraine site that too was destroyed in the fire. The Home Appliance Store and Swift’s Market was said to have an unofficial damage total of $500,000 by early estimates. “Along with complete leveling of the three buildings, plate glass was cracked from intense heat in the St. James Hotel, the Standard Chevrolet Co. and the Firestone store all across the street from the Loraine.”
Even though there were a significant amount of damages, construction fees, and other financial setbacks, Douvas continued to plan for the new building. At first, he had hoped the process would begin by April 1950, Douvas was also aware of the legal fees.
A case was brought up for the damages and claims for the hotel victims that filed suit. Although the claims had been decided to award Horace Baker, a Kansas City salesman who had stayed at the hotel the night of the fire, $11,250 for injuries, it was partially reversed in July 1951. The case had two parts: the personal injury set at $11,000 and $250 for loss of personal effects. “The appeals court ruled the second statute…was against the Anderson Hotels [Hotels of Oklahoma Inc.] and not against either Douvas or his wife.*”
*Note: other names in the lawsuits were against James Anderson (of Anderson Hotels) Loraine Douvas (Nick’s wife), Carl B. Steele (of Lido Club), and Morris L. “Buddy” Stockton (of Club Cafe).
Douvas and his family wanted to work and live in the town of Sapulpa during the court battles that would stretch into 1953. The Douvas had even purchased an interest in the Miller Locker Plant. On August 9, 1950 it was announced “because the case is tied up in the courts and because it appears it may be some time before a hotel can be started to replace the old Loraine, Nick has gone into the locker plant business with Lew Miller. ‘We may be able to build a new hotel one of these days.’”
However, this plan was short-lived. Just two months later, October 12, 1950, another announcement was made by Lew Miller: “I have purchased the interest in the Miller Locker Plant previously owned by Nick Douvas. Due to a physical handicap in his leg, Nick could not withstand the cold temperatures…The entire plant is now owned and operated solely by myself.”
Nick Douvas and his family have lived in Sapulpa since 1932. Without being able to break away from the lawsuits, Douvas decided he and his family would move to Tulsa to start anew around 1951. Douvas left a note goodbye to the town:
I’m taking this space in the Herald to tell all of you that I miss being in Sapulpa. I’d like to come back and may be able to some time in the future. As many of you know, I am now in the business in Tulsa at Lindy’s, 3319 East Admiral. Many of you have come in to see me since I’ve been there while you were out driving or going through. This I appreciate. Glad to see you anytime.
This past week I tried to get some facts and figures together for the building of a fine drive-in restaurant in Sapulpa. But before I knew it, I found there was a new suit against me in Tulsa District Court. It is regarding the same suit, resulting from the disastrous Loraine Hotel fire, which was dismissed in Creek County District Court and the Supreme Court.
So I am stumped again, at least for a while. When the time comes, I will again strive to come back home to Sapulpa.
More on the Hotel fire: Douvas purchased the Sapulpa Hotel (predecessor to the Loraine Hotel) on June 1, 1939. Douvas began working right away at the hotel. “The lobby of the Loraine hotel is being completely remodeled to conform with requirements for a Spanish type interior, resembling the St. James Coffee Shop, which is managed by Nick Douvas…interior will be made up in the Spanish style…all rooms have been refurnished, each [with] a ceiling fan and a telephone, and new lighting system.”
With Douvas previous knowledge of managing a coffee shop, Douvas installed a cafe. The operations ran smooth, with a few hiccups here and there, and opened the Club Loriane, a dance hall, by 1946. Shortly after Douvas ten-year anniversary of operating the Loraine Hotel, the tragic night smoldered the town in smoke.
At 1 AM, Friday, December 2, 1949, someone smelled smoke and someone yelled fire. Two stories told that two visitors staying on the second floor started shouting “there’s a fire!” when another account states that “Buddy” Stockton entered the Club Loraine cafe and smelled smoke.
“The fire was thought to have started in the hotel kitchen. The structure filled with smoke then burst suddenly into flames that spread to neighboring buildings. Sparks from the burning hotel set residence lawns on fire as far away as five blocks [such as at J.H. Gault’s home at 200 S Mounds].”
People staying in the hotel had a difficult time escaping the hotel blaze. “H.C. Baker, of Kansas City, threw a mattress to the sidewalk from his third floor room and leaped to safety. He suffered a broken ankle in the fall…Residents of the apartments [Naifeh Apartments over grocery store] were led to safety by local police….Tom Rawdon, Shawnee, one of the fourth floor occupants who escaped the blaze, made his way down the fire-escape…Harry Jenson, 29, Oklahoma City, woke up to his room full of smoke…he heard ‘Get out everybody–the place is burning up.”
The Fire Department crew members had a fight on their hands. The struggle to keep the fire from spreading became incredibly difficult. “Firemen dragged their hose through the side door of the Loraine Hotel. They were forced back out to attack from a new position…then back at it again somewhere else…then back again at the first position.” For 48-hours, the crew worked nonstop to ease the fire and finally only smoke remained.
The first night reported “no fatalities have been discovered; only three persons have been reported missing: Jack Graves, 51, a local sign painter, Harold Gibbons of Toledo, Ohio, and Louis Vincent, 70, of Oklahoma City, refrigeration salesman ” But other reports indicated there were only two missing, Graves and Vincent.
On day two, December 4, 1949, “Jack Graves is still missing…the only corpse found in hotel rubble was Louis Vincent.” The report read: “The body, wrapped in a blanket…was uncovered by the county bulldozer operated by Joe Peeples, Sapulpa…a suitcase holding $1,200 in saving bonds made out in Vincent’s name was found in the debris; the bonds have been sent to Mrs. Vincent in Oklahoma City.”
Mr. Graves was never recovered from the site.
The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.