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 Author  Topic: Fire Destroys Elco Complex
Frank J Andruss Sr


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Fire Destroys Elco Complex.
A tremendous fire would sweep thru the Elco complex destroying all but two of the 19 buildings that would make up the site. It would also destroy three nearby homes and injure at least 28 people. One of the largest casualties of the fire would be the Electro Dynamic Works, which at the time employed at least 500 people in the manufacture of motors for submarines and other navy ships. More then 500 firemen battled this blaze for more then 19 hours as flames as high as 300 feet shot into the air. A thick layer of black smoke covered the city from bay to bay form Bergen Point to the Jersey City-Bayonne city line. Three New York City fire boats poured tons of water on the flames and were credited by local officials with saving the Englander Mattress Company from being destroyed, as well as the Elco Marina and the boats moored there. The fire was believed to have started around 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, 1963 in a small storage shed behind the Polytex building near Newark Bay. It quickly engulfed the building touching off a series of explosions. Fanned by the winds coming across the Bay, the flames spread quickly to the Electro Dynamic buildings, the Englander warehouse area and three homes on Schulyer Court. The winds gusting to 32 miles per hour, tossed burning cinders across Avenue A and started fires on lawns and roofs along North Street and Avenue A. The main fire would be fought by firemen from Bayonne, the Bayonne Naval Supply Center, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Weehawken, North Bergen and West New York One of the most dramatic moments of the fire was the rescue of seven firemen trapped by the flames at the end of the pier where they were manning pumps, drawing water from the bay. They were saved by the Sea Scout Ship 7, skippered by Al Wiedow. This fire would mark the end of Elco as a complex, although building 21, the main assembly plant for the PT boats would be saved, as well as the dockside crane. Building 21 would later be completely destroyed and demolished some 39 years later, when vandals set fire to it in 2002.
Local developer, Baker Residential would step in and remove the remains to make way for what is now called “The Boat works at Bayonne”. This new residential enclave would consist of some 160 Townhouses situated in the Bergen Point section of the City, between Avenue A and Newark Bay, roughly 10.1 acres of what was once the Elco site. The big question was what to do with the historic twin boomed crane that for years was an integral part of operations at the famed site. Baker Residential had promised the people of Bayonne that it would restore the crane. On October 18, 2006 they made that promise come true as Bayonne city officials joined Baker residential and other invited guests for ceremonies. This special day was to dedicate the restored Elco Crane in its new site at Mayor Richard A. Rutkowski Park. Once again the Crane stands tall, looking like she did when so many PT boats and pleasure craft were launched at Elco. Baker Residential also dedicated a plaque commemorating the Elco plant along the waterfront walkway, overlooking Newark Bay at the Boat-works site. Building 21, the main assembly building for the PT Boats was saved, as well as the attached offices of Building 20.


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