Brooklyn: Avon Apartments / Sam’s Grocery (After the Fire)

by Tim Gilmore, 7/4/2017

cont’d from Brooklyn: Avon Apartments / Sam’s Grocery

My phone buzzes at 6:52 a.m. I reach around groggily, slapping at the end table by the bed until the phone is in my hand. Surely I’m dreaming.

“Building on fire,” reads the text message. “Help.”

courtesy Joe Massa, First Coast News

Then I’m standing in my back yard in the early light. I’m calling the number. An automatic message says the number’s no longer in service.

Puzzled, startled, I look again at the text message. Eula Kirke. The name sounds familiar, but I can’t place it. “July 4,” reads the date. Happy birthday, America. Then I see the year. 1956.

Another message comes through. It’s my friend Johnny Masiulewicz, the writer. “The blue building is on fire.”

I’d just written the 111 year old Avon Apartment Building’s story two weeks ago, and now I remember Eula. She was the apartment manager from the early 1950s through the early 1970s.

I’ve never been able to return these messages lost in time.

The fire began at 5:30 in the morning. It took 35 firefighters an hour and a half to put it out.

The hallway that runs through the middle of the building stands wide open, front door and back, to the city. It’s nearly the last of old Brooklyn. The roof yawns wide open to the sky. The house still stands. For now.

On the front porch, a tabloid-sized newspaper sits soaked, mostly unreadable. Its headline screams, “Amid Inferno,” and beneath photos of an old house destroyed in a fire, “‘hot plate’ blaze that killed 7 kids.”

Later I find stories for fires caused by electric hot plates in Pittsburg in 1969, Los Angeles in 1939, Piqua (Ohio) in 1904, and Chicago in 1967.

This hot-plate fire occurred two years ago in Brooklyn, New York.

Is this soaked newspaper some kind of message? Headlines about a Brooklyn, New York fire on the porch of an old house that just burned in Brooklyn in Jacksonville, Florida?

The newsprint bleeds through from the other side of the soaked front page. Just like time. When you read the news from the other side, you have to read it backwards. I’m trying, damn it, I’m always trying, though my heart keeps getting broken.