A recent minor fire adjacent to the Victoria Theatre brought to mind two disastrous fires that have occurred during the downtown theater’s more than 150-year history.
Just three years after the Turner Opera House (the theater’s original name) opened, a devastating fire destroyed it on May 16, 1869.
An exploding third floor window was the first indication the building was on fire. A witness “yelled ‘fire’ at the top of his lungs,” alerting the fire department according to Bruce and Virginia Ronald’s book “Now Playing, An Informal History of the Victoria Theatre.”
The inferno caused the roof to collapse and the flames shot “several hundred feet above the monster building, a fearfully grand spectacle, and the whole city was illuminated as if by sunlight.”
“Our beautiful Opera House is gone,” reported the Dayton Journal. “It burned early Sunday morning while the world was asleep. Nothing is left of it but shapely ruins – almost classic in their sadly graceful proportions- the ragged monument to an accident.”
The fire spread to adjoining buildings, including a grocery store where Herman Sandmeier was attempting to save goods. A wall collapsed and the grocer was pinned by a falling timber. Despite an attempt at rescue, Sandmeier died in the fire.
The front façade of the building was the only portion of the building saved. The loss was estimated at $550,000.
Almost 50 years and four name changes later, the Victoria Theatre caught fire again.
A fire started in the ushers’ room, according to the Ronalds’ book, and a dozen fire companies rushed to try and save the structure.
This time the building was not a total loss, a third floor dance floor and second floor apartments were in good shape, but the theater was destroyed.
Restrictions during wartime delayed rebuilding the theater, but on Nov. 25, 1919, a grand opening was held for the Victory Theater, re-named to honor those who had fought and died in World War I.