1989 Idan-Ha Hotel Fire

I happened to be in Cape on vacation July 7, 1989, when I heard about a fire at Broadway and Fountain. I was about 1,100 miles out of my jurisdiction, but nobody hassled me when I started taking pictures of firefighters fighting a fire at what was left of the old Idan-Ha Hotel.

Investigators determined that a tenant on the second floor left her room without realizing that she had left a pot cooking on an electric stove. She heard her smoke alarm going off, ran back into the apartment and found it engulfed in flames. She left the door open, which allowed it to spread to the rest of the building.

The Missourian gave the story extensive play in the July 9, 1989, edition. Missourian photographer Mark Sterkel showed up while I was there, so I was robbed of a chance to get another photo in the paper.

Some residents jumped from windows

About half of the 40 to 45 residents were home when the fire broke out. Several of them jumped out windows and off fire escapes to escape the blaze. The building’s concrete floors and brick walls slowed the spread of the fire upward, but it also trapped the heat, which made the fire difficult to fight.

First priority was rescue

The first call came in at 5:31 p.m.; it went to a second alarm four minutes later. When firefighters arrived, they saw a woman sitting with both legs out a second floor window, “not far from jumping or being overcome by smoke” Assistant Fire Chief Jim Niswonger said. Once she and other residents were evacuated, attention turned to fighting the fire.

A heavy stream of water from the aerial platform ladder truck’s deluge knocked the main blaze down pretty quickly. Two firefighters had minor injuries.

Part of hotel burned in 1968

This 1964 aerial shows the Idan-Ha Hotel before a 1968 fire destroyed the northeast portion of the building. The Common Pleas Courthouse is at the bottom; The Southeast Missourian is in the middle; the Idan-Ha is at the top left, across the street from the H & H Building and the Marquette Hotel. The KFVS TV building hadn’t been constructed yet. I think the tall, light-colored building at the corner of Broadway and Fountain was the Post Office at that time.

Here is a link to The Missourian’s story about the June 29, 1968, fire which destroyed the main section of the hotel, Milady’s Shop, the Rainbow Coffee Shop. Six other nearby businesses were also damaged.

Fire resources stretched thin

While crews from three of the Cape’s four stations were fighting the fire, three other minor fires were reported in the city. Fortunately, they were small enough to be handled without calling in mutual aid from Scott City or Jackson.

Photos of Broadway and Fountain

You can see additional photos of the intersection of Broadway and Fountain, including the Idan-Ha Hotel as it looked in 1966 and the present day.

24 Replies to “1989 Idan-Ha Hotel Fire”

  1. I remember the fire at the Idan-Ha-Hotel on June 29, 1968 because I was married on that date to Fletcher B. Hill. I had purchased my going away dress at Milady’s Shop. Fortune, it had to be altered and the lady had it at her house the night of the fire.

  2. I remember little about the two big hotels in town…never knew people who stayed in them. Everyone I knew from out of town was family, so they stayed at our house. I guess we all had to wait for better times, so when people you knew from out of town stayed at motel and hotels instead of at your own house.
    My daughter’s husband, Andy, insists on staying at a hotel when visiting us (?) and gets me a hotel when I visit in California with them. Even my daughter thinks that is a little on the strange side, but goes along with his program.
    I remember the Idan-ha being there and that it was notch below the Marquette Hotel, but not much about it.

  3. I worked in the Idan-Ha-Hotel’s coffee shop. It was my second ‘real job’ – moving up from the being a curb hop at the Dairy Castle to serving grilled cheese sandwiches, and some seltzer mix the old men would order. Of course the ‘old men’ were probably about our age!

    1. I spent a lot of time in the Rainbow Coffee Shop because it was across the street from the H&H Building, where Shari Stiver and I worked doing political polling one summer.

      It was also just half a block from The Missourian.

      It was there, I mentioned in another piece, that I would get a rush hearing those old men you describe saying, “The Paper said…” and realizing that they were talking about a story I had written.

    1. Thanks. I’ve always had a soft spot for firefighters. Unlike with cops, firefighters and rescue folks hardly ever hassled me while I was shooting: they were too intent on saving lives and property.

      Some of my favorite photos are of these brave men and women who put their lives and health on the line every day.

      You can tell from the sweat on his face and his expression that this man has looked the devil in the eye and is going to go back and do it again.

  4. My dad, bobby Lincoln, was a clerk at the U. S. Post Office, and worked a second job at the soda fountain at the Idan-Ha-Hotel. Since my mother, Elda Jean, was the organist at Christ Episcopal Church, and had to play two services, my grandparents would entertain my sister, brother, and me at the Idan-Ha-Hotel coffee shop during the second service. Wonderful memories.

  5. i remember the first fire. i was surprized that the building had a second life. there was lounge in the basement called the “algeirs”?

  6. Larry Loos and Sally Baker, both class of 64 were married on June 30, 1968. I was a groomsman in their wedding. We were having their rehersal dinner in the Idan Ha when the fire broke out between our salad and main course. We finished the rehersal dinner at Sunny Hill.


    1. I went through all 12 grades with Stan Turner and didn’t recognize him.

      I guess I never expected to see him in a position of responsibility. (Of course, the same applies to most of my classmates. Who’d have thought we’d end up running things?)

    2. “I REMEMBER FIGHTING BOTH FIRES” Station one was first company to arrive with only five or six firefighters and three fire trucks at the fire in 1968. We were ordered do not go into the building.
      No other stations was responding until the officer incharge called for backup after we arrived at the scene. I was on top of the old 1950 American LaFrance putting water on the fire, when fire broke out between the roof and the out side wall where the ladder and I was located just above that area. Down on the ground they could not get the ladder moved away from the building fast enought. The heat came throu the black rubber fire coat we wore at the time, melted and burnt my arm laeving a small scar. There was no platform on the truck just the ladder to stand on with a safety belt and no place to go.
      That black fire gear absorbed heat real good. “I REMEMBER THAT FIRE.”

  8. I saw your message was double-posted, so I deleted one of them.

    Those old rubber turnout coats kept you dry from the outside, but they were like a sauna on the inside.

    A fireman buddy of mine gave me one of the more modern Nomex-style bunker coats. They were a whole lot more comfortable, particularly down here in FL. I don’t know how warm they’d be on an icy day up north.

  9. Thanks for taking one off. now there’s two again. I did’nt see the first. please take one of these off. thanks.
    Yes the new coats are very warm, they have liners in them. In hot weather they could be removed but you take away some safety of the coat.

    1. Merlin,

      I fixed it. I think what’s happening is that you’re not seeing updates. Press Ctrl – F5 (Control Function 5) to tell your browser to grab the new stuff.

      Merry Christmas to you, your family and all of those folks who squirt wet stuff on red stuff to keep us safe.

  10. I was so sadened to read about the Idan-Ha Hotel fire (I just “found” the Cape Girardeau website this past year). My Mom (Irene Neal), brother (Tom Neal) and I moved to Mich in 1958, leaving a city that I had grown up in and loved very much. My Mom worked in the Rainbow Cafe and then as a bartender in the Rainbow Room (approx 1948 to 1958). I worked as a “soda jerk” in Boone’s Drug Store, at age 13 (1956) to 15 (1958) and my brother also worked in the drug store cleaning floors, etc., while we attended Jr High and our Freshmen yr at Central High, and my best friend was Brenda Bond. My Mom met Leon “Brink” Brinkopf at the Rainbow Room and dated him for 6 yrs, up until we moved away in 1958. Aaaawwww, such great memories. Thanks Ken for the great pic’s … I really miss Cape!

  11. Ken, one memory that you may appreciate. As members of the First Presbyterian Church, it was an every Sunday ritual for my Dad to grab my grade school aged self at the end of Sunday School and walk down to the coffee shop in the old Idan-ha for a quick Chocolate Coke. After, but before going back for church, we would walk the short distance up to Lueder’s Studio and stop to admire Paul’s latest triumph in his two display windows. No question that those weekly admirations influenced my choice of becoming a portrait photographer.

  12. I recently purchased this property and have been working to bring this property back to a wonderful destination. I am in search of any and all photos from the hotel. Please forward them to me at SeymourChilton@gmail.com. We have great plans to turn this property into a boutique hotel with a franchise clothing store opening 6/22/2012 on the main level facing Broadway. Interior or exterior pics would be great!

  13. My father, Charles E. Ham, in 1937, had an orchestra that played in the Rainbow Room at the Hotel until one night his drummer got drunk and hit the hotel manager in the head with a beer bottle.

  14. My great-grandfather owned the Idan-Ha Hotel. I did not know him as he had passed away prior to my birth and the property exchanged hands before my parents, siblings and I moved to Cape Girardeau in 1968. I will ask my family if anyone has old photos or stories; it is not likely as my grandfather died in 1969 and my father was his only son; he passed away in 1986 but you never know…

  15. I was living in the apartment building on the third floor. Just moments before the fire was discovered, I paid my rent and made my way up the lobby area to the 2nd floor. The hallway went east and then made a T to a north/south hallway. At the south end were the stairs going to the third and fourth floors. At the moment I hit the T I heard the smoke alarm inside the apartment that was afire. At just that moment, the tenant came north from a neighbor’s apartment and reached for her door that was right at the T. She opened her door and screamed, probably from burning her hand on the doorknob. Then the door seemed to be sucked into the apartment and a ball of flames engulfed to woman for a split second. She ran past me and I spun around and we both started shouting “Fire!” and pounding on doors to alert others. When I exited the the back (south) lobby area, people were climbing down the fire escape which did not reach the ground. With some other tenants, we began coaxing people to just and we caught several folks as they escaped the building. There are two inaccuracies in the story: 1) the windows at the north and south ends of the hallway were both open, creating a draft which pushed the fire south down the hallway until flames were seen jumping out the south window. This and the fact that the apartment door was open was why the fire moved so fast, but the tenant had no opportunity to shut the door once it was sucked open in a backdraft. 2) The fire was caused by the tenant placing a plastic laundry basket on the stove when one of the stove’s electric burners was left on. Not that it matters much but I was there. Nothing has ever frightened me as much as that fire. Seeing the woman momentarily disappear in flames, and watching her run past with some if her hair on fire is something that still haunts my dreams.

    1. Thanks for filling in details and correcting errors. That had to have been a scary experience. I’ve been in a number of fires – including one flashover – and there’s nothing to compare with that orange monster reaching out for you.

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