Saturday, May 8, 2010

September 27, 1975: Explosion

A friend on Facebook was growing up in Centralville when a middle-of-the-night explosion demolished a cafe at First and Bridge Streets (I'm guessing Dunks was built in its place).  I'm in a productive mood today and made it to the library and printed the article out.  Occurring before I was born but not before I'm sure many of my readers' time, like the fire articles, any additional information would be great.

Violent Downtown Blast Levels Cafe; Rocks City

The Evening Edition of The Sun on Sept 27, 1975's front page was almost entirely taken up by, and the back page was entirely devoted to, an article about an explosion that occurred in Centralville at 3:20 in the AM.  During a severe storm that night, an explosion, the cause of which had yet to be determined, completely demolished Jake's Cafe.  Trucks nearby were flipped over, sidewalks buckled, ceilings collapsed, light posts were bent.  Damage was done to 68 businesses, and 23 people were injured (amazingly nobody seriously), one woman was admitted for cuts and later released.  Twenty cruisers got flat tires on the debris and multiple fire trucks.  Some of the damage was to obvious buildings like Russo Music across the street, but broken windows or other damage was seen in places as unlikely as Woolworth's, on Merrimack Street, facing away from Centralville.  The "heaviest damage" area map The Sun printed, aside from being a little out of date and showing the downtown configuration before Arcand Drive had been built, draws a box around Bridge and First from 10th Street in the north, to French Street in the south, to Coburn Street in the west, and the Hunts Falls Bridge on the east.

As the other 70s disaster articles I posted also said, purposeful destruction was a real possibility.  The apartments above the cafe were somewhat recently vacant (thankfully as whoever had been in them would have been vaporized - a woman was interviewed who had moved shortly before to elsewhere in the neighborhood), and the cafe had been shut down for three weeks following a fire in which gasoline drums were found in the cellar.  A gas pipe was found uncapped, and Fire Chief Beauregard said that that would allow gas to just flow into the building, ignitable by anything as simple as a light switch, a pilot light, or a refrigeration unit.  Another official at the scene pointed out the missing plug needed to be screwed off, as the threading had not been damaged by the explosion.  Fortunately, had this explosion happened during the day with people on the street and cars on the sidewalks, it is likely that fatalities would have occurred.


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  2. Apparently it was deliberate, but at least somewhat mercifully deliberate... thanks for the link; hope you enjoy many more productive moods!

  3. I was there!

    At the time I was an EMT working in Malden but living in the apartments behind McPherson Park on Hildreth St. I was woken up by the thunder and loving lightning shows I was looking out my ground-floor apartment window when I saw a flash and heard the loudest BOOM even to this day. I turned on my police scanner and recall hearing one of the walking beats sent to the area of Bridge and First for multiple alarms going off.

    A few seconds later the beat officer radioed back in an excited voice that there was an huge explosion and to "send everything you got!" I immediately donned my EMT uniform and drove the few blocks and parked close to the scene. (No, I was fortunate--no flats! But I did have to do some serious weaving around debris!)

    There was only one fire pumper, one ambulance and I believe two or three cruisers on scene when I arrived.

    Being out of my jurisdiction if you will I identified myself to one of the A-Medic EMT's (the company who covered Lowell at the time). He and I began a door-to-door mission of locating any serious injuries. The only injury I treated through the whole incident was a youngster with a minor cut who was more scared than anything else.

    My wife's uncle, aunt and cousins lived on Third St with their house backing up to the scene. The bedroom windows were shattered with glass all over the cousins beds but fortunately being too scared to even move they did not even have a scratch.

    The damage was extensive. Windows blown out up Bridge to 10th or 11th St. Debris scattered over the intersection. I recall seeing 2 12 foot long 8"x8" timbers fastened together with a large bolt at one end thrown all the way to Bridge and 6th. Every window in the mills lining the Merrimack either side of the Bridge St bridge as far as the eye could see. Windows shattered down Bridge St all the way to Merrimack St and then the strangest thing... A few windows were broken heading east on Merrimack but heading West (toward City Hall) almost all the windows in the businesses on either side were broken all the way up to Palmer St. It was as if the force of the blast took a right turn on Merrimack!

    The owner of the building (and the bar that occupied the ground floor) was later charged with arson and probably other crimes, convicted and did some serious prison time. He was having financial troubles and was attempting to collect on insurance. It was also assumed that the fire 3 weeks before the explosion was also arson set by the owner.

    And you are 100% correct--the location of the explosion is where DD's is now

  4. Thanks for filling in the blanks, Paul!

  5. I just came across picture I took of this explosion. My brother and his family lived right across the street on 2nd. The pictures make it look like a war zone. I remember it well. Most windows were blown out in the area, all the way up Bridge to almost St. Michaels.

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  9. Myself Kevin Thyne & Jim Fryns were sitting in a step van in front of store 24 on bridge St. when the explosion happened. Jim got thrown out the passenger side & got thrown off the driver seat. Store 24 windows were blown out. We walked down 2 blocks through all the glass in the St.We helped 1 girl out of a apartment with lots of cuts. We wrapped a blanket around her & waited for ambulance. We were the 1st ones there. The building was gone. There was no medical, fire or police personal there yet. Everyone started to come out of buildings. Windows blown out entire area everywhere