The Athenaeum Fire
St. Alphonsus Parish underwent two very severe trials. The first occurred on November 27, 1939 (Thanksgiving Day). The fire broke out at 3:00 AM. Thousands of spectators ran to the scene to witness one of the most destructive fires that had occurred on the North side. Despite efforts by the firefighters, the flame and smoke continued unabated for four hours. The last of the raging fire was quenched that morning at 7:30. The Athenaeum lay in a heap of ruins. No one knows how it started.
Before the fire, the upper story of the Athenaeum had five commercial high school rooms. Two classes were carried on in the lower church, two others in the lower sacristy and a fifth in the upper sacristy during the reconstruction.
Rev. Francis Fagen was the pastor when the fire occurred. The insurance company awarded St. Alphonsus $12,510 and Rev. Hagen then negotiated for a $125,000 loan. In spite of some bad weather and labor difficulties, a new Athenaeum was resurrected eleven months after the fire. On September 29, 1940, a colorful parade of all the school children commemorated the event by marching around the premises and leading the Commercial Students into their new quarters. The school band played and a an address was given by the pastor. The restored Athenaeum was considerably remodeled. The two-story building was converted into three stories.
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