On July 3, 1914, fire destroys the Jewel Theatre in Hillyard, a suburb of Spokane. Faulty wiring is suspected as the cause. All patrons were able to exit the building safely, although two firemen received minor injuries while fighting the blaze.
The venue appears to have been a total loss, although the show business newspaper Variety was quick to note that the Jewel’s insurance policy covered (at the very least) the estimated $2,000 loss on the film print (“Northwestern Picture House”).
The Jewel fire is the second such incident to take place in the Spokane area over a 10-month period. Earlier, on September 17, 1913, Albert Hayes was seriously burned about the face and hands when a fire erupted in the projection booth of the Rex Theatre in Spokane. At the time motion picture film was printed on highly flammable nitrate stock, a practice that made a projectionist’s occupation hazardous by today’s standards.
Fortunately, strict fire codes in most jurisdictions helped prevent tragedies like the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, where more than 600 people perished due (in part) to exits that were locked or covered with decorative ironwork, or that opened inwards instead of outwards. At the Rex, the projection booth was sufficiently fire-proofed such that patrons did not even know a fire had occurred until after the blaze had been extinguished and ambulance personnel arrived to treat Hayes’s injuries.