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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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College on Fire: 1963

College on Fire: 1963

December 16, 1963. Fire destroys the old gymnasium at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California. Arson suspected. The building had already been condemned for public assembly and was scheduled for demolition. In a way, the beginning of the end of the mission revival architecture of this institution, of which nothing remains on the present campus. Also: 1960 Thunderbird; vintage Van Pelt fire engine, but I can't identify the original truck make. Plus a really vintage, even for 1963, pedestrian signal at the extreme left. 35mm Kodachrome. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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College of Marin gym fire

I had just finished my day at Kent School. I was buying an electric can opener for my mom at the hardware store just north of the creek when I heard the sirens and horn go off for Kentfield Fire Dept.

I walked out front, saw the engine stop in front of the gym, and jumped on my bike and rode down. Somehow the alarm was called in quickly, because there was heavy black smoke only coming from the locker room windows, the fire hadn't spread yet. The smoke hadn't even spread. The locker room was below grade, so the windows were at ground level. The interior of the gym was wood that had shellac applied for years, and you can see the results. It really took off, and the heat and flame lengths were impressive. I knew a lot of the firefighters because my stepdad bought our house from Harry Kamp, and his son Kenny was a firefighter at KFD who later became the Chief there.

All of us young Kentfield guys respected the firefighters at KFD, and rightfully so. They were known for being aggressive firefighters who excelled at protecting life and property. Problem with a fire like that, about the only choice you have is to fight it defensively and "surround and drown" it.

Extraordinary photo

A memorable event, fabulous composition, colors, lighting, and the onlookers -- all adding up to a fascinating glimpse into history.

We could see the smoke.

So we rode our bicycles over to see the fire from Wolfe Grade school. I was likely standing across the street at the "Eat and Run" drive in.

We went back a few days later to inspect the damage. What we found out was, there was a shooting range under the gym. Lots of spent .22 casings everywhere.

Also, the football field next door became a lake whenever it would flood. That was before the Corps of Engineers built the "concrete canal". I saw some guys water skiing on the field one winter.

I grew up in this town, and this image is unbelievable to me.

The Gym Fire

The fire started when a jersey that was hanging to dry fell onto a portable heater.

The truck is a 1955 White, powered by a Mustang flathead Six, with a 1,000 gpm two-stage pump. In service 1955-1972, used as a backup 1972-1989, then sold to Hewlett-Packard in Santa Rosa, repainted and still in service.

Sources: Chief Robert Mariani, Battalion Chief Ron Darrington, Engineer Frank Berthiner (all retired), Volunteer C.J. Curtin. 1974-1993

Frank was the engineer on duty that day.

For Mr. La Fong

Always glad to accommodate a classic car fan. Here's a close-up of the cars from another shot:


And an ever more vintage '51 Plymouth

It Was a Prettier Campus

I was there around the same time, Anonymous Tipster, and you're absolutely right about the former Mission Revival look of the College of Marin campus. You should see pictures of the place from the 30s through the early 50s; utterly charming. Ironically, an article in the Independent-Journal when some of the newer buildings were going up (after knocking down the old ones) quotes some college administration brass to the effect that the new structures were designed to reference and harmonize with the traditional architecture. What a joke. In reality, where once we had distinctive and characteristic, we now have Anywhereville.

It Was A Much Prettier Campus

I went there in 1967-69, when the campus still had some of the Spanish style (someone called them Mission Revival) buildings, and a free-running creek. Now it's just ugly, and the creek is a concrete ditch.

Vintage pedestrian signal

Great shot and gorgeous fire truck. That vintage crossing signal (good eye BTW) is an old Wiley.

College Fire Location

This is on College Ave. and the signal is for Stadium Way, the short street behind the Woodland Market shopping center. It's called Stadium Way because that whole area immediately to the north was occupied by the football field. Here's a Google street view from about where I took the shot:

View Larger Map


What intersection is this? Is this near where Woodland's Market and Kent Middle School are now? AWESOME shot. It's a shame they demolished it all. Looks like it was a much prettier campus than it is nowadays.

More old trucks

The truck is a White 3000 made sometime between the very late 1940s and 1960 or so.


Looks like a 1950s White cab-over.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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