I’m cataloging images from the Marjorie Bouve scrapbooks this afternoon, and ran across a theater program from Tremont Theatre (Boston, Mass), 1909, which trumpeted themselves as “the safest theatre in Boston,” being equipped with “three celebrated Regan Water Curtains which are positive in their action. Also an asbestos curtain.” Obviously, this required a thirty-second search through Google to find out what, exactly, a “water curtain” might be. The image on the right shows the water curtain in action, as pictured in Public Opinon, vol 29 (January – December 1905).
This technique of fire containment was patented by Chief Regan of the Boston fire department as a method of keeping fires from leaping from building to building and also from destabilizing the front of buildings. As the Public Opinion describes:
The fire department can cope with the average fire when it is no higher than the sixth floor, but above that all that is needed to have a second Baltimore fire is a high wind and an outbreak. Tie fire would leap from building to building, say above the sixth floor, and we should see a long row of buildings in the great financial centers, with all their tops burning and the bottom floors intact. This may be remote, or it may not be, but, as fire insurance men know, it must be figured in the table of insurance rates. The Regan water
curtain is designed to prevent flames from leaping across a street and the front of a building from warping by heat. On the eighth floor and on the fifteenth floor, on the Broadway side of the Manhattan Life Building, 3 1/2-inch pipes were connected with the city water system in the street. The nozzles of the pipe were split into three tiny slots, so that the stream spread into fine spray. This system of pipes stretched across the front wall of the building made a canopy of water, covered the front of the building, and ran off in great streams for a block up and down the curb of Broadway.
So there’s your history tidbit for the day. Don’t you feel more informed?