Notes on the Great
Luongo Fire of 1942
November 15, 1942
We Remember: That cold wind swept wartime Sunday morning November
15,1942 is forever etched in memory as the day of the “Luongo Fire”.
So called because a café and restaurant of that name then occupied
the site of a horrific disaster that occurred at the corner of Henry
Street and Maverick Square, East Boston.
A kitchen grease fire had first flared
in the early morning hours. A few hours later the fire seemed to be
under control. Then a brick wall suddenly collapsed and the scene
erupted into a devastating inferno. The conflagration claimed the
lives of six Boston firefighters trapped inside by the collapse with
several dozen more firefighters injured, some permanently. It fast
became a day of heart wrenching tragedy most devastating for the
inconsolable loss of human life. The ultimate sacrifice of those six
men we still do and always will mourn. It was also a day of witness
to stirring courage and valiant bravery as firefighters attempted
rescue of their trapped comrades.
It was a day of faith too. Clergy
entered the still dangerous ruins extending the comforts of faith to
those trapped there. As word of the disaster spread by radio,
telephone and telegraph wire -- then our only means of instant
communication -- soon at the horrific scene also were
multitudes of other responders civilian and military. Coast
Guardsmen, Police, ambulance drivers, medical and other support
personnel, and newspaper reporters too each played a part by their
devotion to duty in East Boston’s epically tragic story of the
Words must fall short. We remember
them all in silent tribute.
Historical Note: Three and a half story high, with granite faced and
brick exterior walls, the interior wooden joisted building at the
corner of Henry Street and Maverick Square in 1942 was one of the
oldest buildings in East Boston. It was typical of mid 19th century
Boston commercial construction. In accounts of the fire it is
frequently referred to as “Old Armory Hall”. “Armory Hall” is the
name by which it was known in the early years of the 20th century.
That building however never was actually an armory as such. There
once was an armory in East Boston. It was located at the corner of
Maverick and Bremen Streets in a wooden building that preceded the
still standing brick Overseers of the Public Welfare Building. The
building in which the “Luongo Fire” occurred was built sometime
before 1858. It was known originally as “Ritchie Hall” likely from
the name of its owner.
With stores on the street level
fronting “Hotel”, later renamed “Maverick” Square, a large space,
“Ritchie Hall”, on the second story hosted public events such as
lectures and political debates. Groups such as churches and other
organizations sometimes also rented space there. Immediately
adjacent on “Hotel Square” the larger brick building fronting
Hotel/Maverick Square and Sumner Street which was definitely built
in 1844 had been the Maverick Congregational Church until 1870.
Later it became known as “Lyceum Hall” and afterwards “Maverick
Corner of Henry Street and Maverick Square @ 1910
From 1868 to about 1913 the building
at the corner of Henry Street and Maverick Square housed banking
offices on the street level. After the removal of the bank “Armory
Hall” continued as a place of public, often political, meetings.
Subsequently and at the time of the fire the building was occupied
by a café, tap room and restaurant that was a popular place for
dining and dancing and functions such as wedding receptions.