Jacob A. Riis (18491914). The Battle with the Slum. 1902.
of Buildings and asked him what it meant. I showed him the law, which said that the stairs should be built of slow-burning construction or fireproof material; and he put his finger upon the clause that follows, as the Superintendent of Buildings shall decide. The law gave him discretion, and that is how he used it. Hard wood burns slowly, said he.
The fire of which I speak was a cruller fire, if I remember rightly, which is to say that it broke out in the basement bakeshop, where they were boiling crullers (doughnuts) in fat, at 4 A.M., with a hundred tenants asleep in the house above them. The fat went into the fire, and the rest followed. I suppose that I had to do with a hundred such fires, as a police reporter, before, under the protest of the Gilder Tenement House Commission and the Good Government Clubs, the boiling of fat in tenement bakeshops was forbidden. The Chief of the Fire Department, in his testimony before the commission, said that tenements are erected mainly with a view of returning a large income for the amount of capital invested. It is only after a fire in which great loss of life occurs that any interest whatever is taken in the safety of the occupants. The Superintendent of Buildings, after such a fire in March, 1896, said that there were thousands of tenement firetraps in the city.