1417 Commerce Street: 51 years and four lives later
Thousands of people walk past 1417 Commerce Street on a daily basis and pay it little attention. It’s currently a semi-vacant part of a larger commercial tract but has been many things since the turn of the 20th century. This particular downtown address has housed a few merchants, a deli, and from 1915 to 1964, a restaurant called the Golden Pheasant.
Much has been written over the years about the Golden Pheasant and the infamous fire of 1964. In a city still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a return to ordinary North Texas life was most warranted and duly welcomed on that cold late winter morning. But fate had other plans for this address and Dallas firefighters.
For most Americans, heading off to work each day provides a reasonably high probability of returning home to family and friends. A select few have taken a different path, one that affords a greater calling. Dallas Fire-Rescue professionals answer these calls, and without hesitation, if necessary, the last bell. The lives of every firefighter who called Dallas and Station 18 home on Feb. 16, 1964 would forever change as four of their own would answer the bell for the last time.
The facts surrounding the fire are as incomprehensible as the flames that tore through the building on Commerce Street that fateful morning; more than 750 firefighters, a thousand spectators, a bread warmer, some rags and arson. The final moments of four members of Station 18 came in the form of a flaming basement, dry wood and heavy, crashing blueprint machines. Jim Gresham, Ron Manley, Jerry Henderson and Jim Bigham perished that day. The City grieved; families mourned their lost spouses, fathers, friends and fellow firefighters, and life as many knew it was forever changed.
The Golden Pheasant fire and its significance to modern fire-rescue professionals can never be understated or underappreciated. Although a lot has changed since the last bit of debris was carried away from 1417 Commerce Street, the dangers involved in protecting and serving the people of Dallas remain much the same. Every day, men and women stand ready at 58 fire stations across the City. And each carries a little bit of their brothers; Gresham, Manley, Henderson and Bigham with them each time they answer the call.
Dallas Fire-Rescue will hold a 2015 Memorial Service at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 at 5000 Dolphin Road. This every five year event honors fallen firefighters and their families. To learn more about Dallas Fire-Rescue and review their incredible history visit: http://www.dallasfirerescue.com/.