Remembering the 1942 Fire in the Alden B. Dow Studio

On the night of July 24, 1942, a fire broke out inside the entrance to the Alden B. Dow Studio.  The book Alden B. Dow: Midwestern Modern by Diane Maddex includes a description of the fire, but pictures of the aftermath are rarely seen. In photographs found in the Archives, the extent of the damage is clear.

A maid discovered the fire around 9:30 p.m. and alerted the fire department.  When firefighters arrived, they assumed the front door was locked and tried to axe through the copper cladding and solid cypress without success.  As it turned out, the door was actually unlocked (or so the story is often told).

The fire gutted the reception area.  The original drafting room was only partially burned but was damaged by water and smoke.  The smoke also made its way into the adjoining residence.  Remarkably, the property loss was estimated to be just $15,000 according to newspaper accounts at the time.

From the ashes Mr. Dow transformed what was formerly a seating area into the glassed-in indoor garden area that one sees upon entering the Home and Studio today.  He also created a loft above the entryway and the first drafting room that now serves as a staff workspace.

Mr. Dow never did repair the front door, preferring to leave it as a reminder to firemen that if there ever was another fire, they wouldn’t be able to chop down the door to extinguish it.

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