Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2014

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History:

Looking back on the early-morning blaze that destroyed the Sun building

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Sun File Photo

Bryn Armstrong walks through the burned out Las Vegas Sun newspaper offices on April 23, 1964. The paper which was located at 900 S. Main Street burned down on November 20, 1963.

1963 Las Vegas Sun Building Fire

A Sun staffer pretends to use a typewriter in the burned out Las Vegas Sun building at 900 S. Main Street on April 23, 1964.  The building burned down on November 20, 1963. Launch slideshow »

Fifty years ago today, a fire swept through the Sun newspaper offices, destroying the facility and crippling the printing press beyond repair. Cause of the fire was never determined, leading to much speculation about who was out to get the newspaper’s crusading founder, publisher and editor, Hank Greenspun.

The paper didn’t lose a day of publication, however, and slowly recovered.

Today, we reprint three articles: the news story that was published the following day; a “Where I Stand” column that, in the absence of Greenspun — who was in Switzerland at the time — was written by Executive Editor Bryn Armstrong; and excerpts from Greenspun’s “Where I Stand,” which was published a week later.

The following is the news story that was published.

A raging pre-dawn fire that sent smoke billowing high over the city gutted the main building of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper yesterday, causing damage close to $1.5 million.

Cause of the fire was not officially determined by the prevention bureau of the Las Vegas Fire Department. However, printers working in the plant when the blaze started said the blaze began near an air conditioning compressor.

Firemen of the three engine companies and two truck companies that answered the call battled the fire for close to an hour. The papers stored in the building, plus oil, kerosene and ink used in the print shop, created such extreme heat that it was necessary to fight the flames from ladder trucks and at a distance.

The timber-trussed roof collapsed when the fire ate its way through the supporting columns, and debris — large beams, roofing and roof coolers — crashed down on the interior offices.

The 80-page press was buried and like much of the other equipment — linotype machines, typewriters, desks and teletype machines — it was not immediately known how much could be salvaged.

It was reported that while most of the office equipment had been damaged by both fire and the collapsing roof, the files of the newspaper were protected for the most part by fire-proof cabinets.

A demolition crew was inspecting the building yesterday as soon as the fire was completely extinguished and a team of pressmen were flying in from Los Angeles to determine how extensive the damage was to the press.

In the meantime, Ruthe Deskin, assistant to publisher Hank Greenspun, said the Sun would continue to publish daily “on a limited schedule.”

Greenspun, who was contacted and notified of the fire in Geneva, Switzerland, said he was catching the first available plane back and is expected in Las Vegas sometime tomorrow.

Today’s issue of the Sun was put together in temporary editorial facilities and was printed at the Las Vegas Review-Journal plant.

The first alarm of the blaze was received by the fire department at 5:01 a.m., and a department spokesman said the trucks were on hand moments later.

Composing room foreman Vic Iverson said the fire, which started close to an area where the back issues of the paper were stored, enveloped the area so quickly that it was impossible to take any effective steps with small extinguishers on hand.

All of the printers escaped without injury, and in the entire operation, only two firemen suffered minor injuries.

Patrolmen of the Las Vegas Police Department immediately began routing the heavy morning traffic on Main Street on to side streets, and later in the day, one lane of traffic was still blocked off in front of the office.

The Sun was first purchased by Greenspun in May 1950, when it was owned by the International Typographical Union and printed Monday, Wednesday and Friday under the banner of the Las Vegas Free Press. At that time, the offices of the firm were located in a warehouse on North Main Street.

The move to the present location at 900 S. Main St. came in December of the same year. The building was at first shared with a local plumbing firm, while the paper took over the entire plant in 1953.

The Sun began its career as the Las Vegas Morning Sun, publishing five days a week. Later, a Sunday edition was added and then the seven-day schedule currently followed was begun.

Following the fire yesterday, operations of the paper were shifted to its circulation building located on South Commerce Street, behind the main building.

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