Those who have only lived in Orange since the late 1960s have no idea what a thriving business district the three blocks of Fifth Street between Division Avenue to the south and Green Avenue to the north were before “The Fire “.
On March 14, 1963, a fire attributed to electrical failure broke out in one of the stores on the east side of Fifth Street in the 200 block. The fire seeped into the attic of the stores and spread from end to end.
Seven stores are destroyed and the death knell for downtown Orange sounds.
Orange as a city developed along the river on what would become Front Street, east to west. Further development from south to north occurred on Fifth Street.
In its glory days, there was nothing a citizen of Orange needed that couldn’t be found on Fifth Street. You could see a doctor or a lawyer, buy glasses, have a meal, buy real estate, get it insured, and get the abstract work done. You can buy jewelry, stationery, medicine and send a telegram.
Clothes were sold for babies and grandmothers. There were shoes, handbags, belts and ties in several stores. Newspapers were sold at the newsstand. If you are too tired to go home, you can stay at the hotel. You never had to leave Fifth Street.
Across Green Avenue, at the corner of Fifth and Pine, was a funeral home. A citizen could spend their last night on Fifth and Pine and start their last journey from there.
The 100 block of Fifth Street began at the intersection with Division Avenue near the river. At 100 Fifth in the 1940s, there was the Playland Bowling and Roller Rink. Across the street at 101 Fifth was the New Holland Hotel. In addition to the hotel, there were various businesses in the lobby, the Holland Hotel dining room, the Holland Watch Shop and the Holland Hotel Barber Shop. The Rotary Club and the Lions Club had meeting rooms in the Holland Building.
Next to the hotel was Texas State Optical’s first location at 103 Fifth, Nelson’s Style Shop with women’s clothing was also located there. At 105 Fifth were Staudt’s Jewelry and the Clough Blueprint and Supply Company. 107 Fifth found the Orange Supply Company selling furniture and hardware. Across the street at 106 were the Star Taxi Company and the Red Top Taxi.
109 The fifth was the labor temple of Orange. The unions there were International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 390, Marine Pipefitters Local No. 414, Sheet Metal Workers Local 402, Boilermakers Local No. 406, International Hod Carriers, Building, and Common Laborers Union of America, No 358, Orange Metal Trades Council and Hotels, Restaurant, and Bartenders Local No 604.
The Orange Novelty Company was located at 110 Fifth Street. It was a company dedicated to the sale of phonographs. United Gas Corp. was at 111, the Western Auto Associate Store occupied 113, and at 115 was Ensign Auto Supply. The block ended at 117 where the Orange newsstand was located.
The First National Bank had built on the corner of Fifth and Front in 1902 at 201 Fifth. The bank was on the ground floor and seven miscellaneous businesses occupied the second floor. You could see a doctor, buy real estate, insurance, or have your picture taken in offices.
At 202 Fifth was the Standandeat restaurant. I hope there were chairs.
Joe Lucas, watchmaker and jeweler and Griggs Office and Stationery used the space at 203 Fifth. Lucas also owned 203 ½ Fifth and leased space from Dr. Stanley M. Richmond, Ship Carpenters Jointers and Calkers Local No.856, and Bruce and Bruce, Attorneys at Law.
Rips Café at 204 Fifth was next to one of the $1 Perry Brothers 5c department store at 205. Perry’s other location was one block north at 304 Fifth. 205B was the location of the Orange Insurance Agency, Orange Investment Company, Real Estate Sales, and Orange County Abstract Company.
206 The fifth was the Domino Club. 206 ½ fifth was a group of four rooms, two were vacant. Robert L Patterson occupied one, R. Lee Davis, lawyer and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2775 shared the other.
JC Penny was at 207 fifth. HL Cohenour and Company, jewelers and Howard L. Cohenour, optometrist shared 207A. At 207B was the Goldfine department store.
208 Fifth was the Williams Drug Company. Inside208A, The Specialty Shoppe sold women’s clothing. The Bengal Theater showed films at 209Fifth, across the street at 212 the Gem Theater did the same.
Velma’s sold women’s clothing at 210. Velma’s shared space with the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Sweet Shop. Orange Drug was at 211, 212A was the Sabine Coffee Company wholesale and retail coffee vendors. Service Drug was on the corner of Fifth and Main at 212B.
Block 300 was occupied by Orange National Bank at 301 and across the street at 302 was Green’s department store.
Where the block ended was ABC store #1 for general groceries, Lehman’s Market and Henry Crew’s Fruits filling the 304 to Green Avenue.
By the 1950s, things had changed a bit on the street. The Jack Tar Hotel had opened at the end of Fifth on Division and the Holland Hotel had been demolished. The First National Bank had constructed a new building at the corner of Fifth and Green Avenue. Perry Brothers had consolidated into one store and moved to the corner of Fourth Street and Green Avenue.
JC Penny had built a new store on the corner of Fifth and Green Avenue, diagonally across from First National Bank.
City-operated buses ceased to operate in the late 1950s.
Some of the doctors, lawyers and insurance agents opened new offices in new locations. The Gem Theater closed and left Bengal the only theater in Fifth. There were two other cinemas in Orange, the Royal between Fifth and Fourth on Front and the Strand, where Short Sixth Street ended in Front.
Ted Belile and Tony Griffith had opened men’s clothing stores. New businesses, such as the Singer Sewing Machine Company, had moved into vacated store space.
In the 1950s, some people still came to town to visit on Saturdays. The children went to the “Kiddie Shows” on Saturday mornings and stayed until Saturday afternoon.
Although there had been changes, things were still very familiar on Fifth Street: until the fire of 1963. Half of the 200 block of Fifth was gone within hours.
Service Drug Company, Velma’s Dress Shop, Toyland, Western Union, Singer Sewing Machine Company, Steak and Shake Cafe, and Roberta’s Jewelry Store were gone; only the shells of the buildings remained. The fire had passed through the ceilings, had collapsed and had ravaged the businesses.
Shopping malls were under construction. It was a line of interconnected stores, accompanied by large parking lots, hundreds of free parking spaces. The Gateway Mall had been built in Beaumont, Jefferson City in Port Arthur was operating, and the MacArthur Mall was opening in Orange, across Adam’s Bayou from downtown.
Demographics were changing. People liked the idea of having so many places under one roof. In malls, they didn’t have to cross streets and deal with traffic. Above all, they appreciated not having to supply the parking meters.
One by one, businesses that were left downtown either started to leave downtown or closed. The buildings destroyed by the fire have not been rebuilt.
Eventually, the area that burned became the site of Orange’s new public library.
As the buildings fell vacant downtown, the Stark Foundation purchased them and built the Lutcher Theater on the east side of the 200 block of Fifth between Front and Main Avenues.
A new building was constructed for the First National Bank at the corner of Sixteenth Street and Green Avenue. The downtown bank building was taken over for the offices of the Stark Foundation.
What was once Orange’s business center no longer exists. The town center is occupied by Lamar-Orange, the Orange Public Library, the Lutcher Theatre, the Stark House, the Stark Museum, the Stark Offices, the new senior center and a cluster of small office buildings. The only remaining retail businesses in the old Fifth Street neighborhood are The Orange Stationer and Farmer’s Mercantile.
Source: Directory of the city of Orange, 1944
“And now you know.”
– Written by Mike Louviere