A dark time in Hoboken’s history: Remembering the arson victims of the ‘70s, ‘80s

A community effort is underway in Hoboken to finally tell the story about a wave of fires that killed dozens of people and displaced hundreds 40 years ago.

News 12 Staff

Feb 27, 2020, 2:06 AM

Updated 1,552 days ago

Share:

A community effort is underway in Hoboken to finally tell the story about a wave of fires that killed dozens of people and displaced hundreds 40 years ago.
Over the years, Hoboken has evolved from a gritty, working-class enclave to a town with the highest rents in the state of New Jersey. Hoboken’s Hispanic population has dropped by 50% during that time.
The gentrification of Hoboken wasn’t just the result of market forces and economics. It was fueled by evictions, intimidation, violence, arson and murder.
As many as 55 people died in a series of fires in Hoboken between 1978 and 1983 – many of them children and the impoverished. Hundreds more were displaced by fires that were intentionally set.
Newspaper headlines of the era described an epidemic of arson. On Jan. 21, 1979, 21 people were killed and 21 more injured in a fire at 131 Clinton St. On Oct. 25, 1981, 11 were killed, including a 9-year-old child, in an unsolved arson at the El Dorado apartment complex on Washington Street. On April 30, 1982, 13 were killed, including three babies, at the site of a former hotel. It remains another unsolved arson. And the list goes on.
The allegations - never proven but widely believed – is that fires were being set by property owners to clear tenements and hotels of poor tenants for conversion into higher rent condos for the new waves of Wall Street yuppies who were flocking to Hoboken.
Many of today’s newer Hoboken residents do not know about the history of the fires in the city. But for those who lived in what is called “Old Hoboken,” the images of mothers dropping babies from windows and other horrors still haunt them.
Hoboken resident Rose Orozco worked as a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital amid the fires. Orozco is spearheading the Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project. She plans to build a memorial to the 55 victims in Thomas Olivieri Park.
“I just felt it was part of our history and that it should be remembered and these folks should be remembered,” Orozco says.
There are other efforts underway to remember those victims and tell their stories. All Saints Episcopal Church is running a three-part series beginning with a day of conversation and storytelling on Saturday.
“Just giving people permission to talk about something that was a really painful era in Hoboken’s history,” says the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas.
A prayer walk to the fire locations will be held in March and a service of remembrance is planned. Anyone affected by the fires - including victims, first responders and community members - is invited.


More from News 12
2:09
Chaotic Memorial Day weekend at the Jersey Shore leads to stabbing, curfew

Chaotic Memorial Day weekend at the Jersey Shore leads to stabbing, curfew

2:14
Sunny today with highs near 80 in New Jersey; tracking spotty showers on Wednesday

Sunny today with highs near 80 in New Jersey; tracking spotty showers on Wednesday

2:40
Menendez bribery trial: ‘Missing’ juror causes delay; prosecution to focus on woman still 'friendly' with co-defendants

Menendez bribery trial: ‘Missing’ juror causes delay; prosecution to focus on woman still 'friendly' with co-defendants

10:51
Gov. Murphy answers viewers questions on ‘Ask Gov. Murphy’ program - May 28, 2024

Gov. Murphy answers viewers questions on ‘Ask Gov. Murphy’ program - May 28, 2024

0:14
Fire chief: No injuries in Plainfield house fire

Fire chief: No injuries in Plainfield house fire

1:25
Friday's preholiday travel breaks the record for the most airline travelers screened at US airports

Friday's preholiday travel breaks the record for the most airline travelers screened at US airports

0:52
Tips to stay healthy while traveling this summer

Tips to stay healthy while traveling this summer

0:39
New Jersey Turnpike Authority proposes modernizing 8 miles of road from Newark to Jersey City

New Jersey Turnpike Authority proposes modernizing 8 miles of road from Newark to Jersey City

0:22
Police: Missing Neptune Township teen found safe

Police: Missing Neptune Township teen found safe

1:12
Best of New Jersey: Grabbing a bite at Labebe Prime in North Brunswick Township

Best of New Jersey: Grabbing a bite at Labebe Prime in North Brunswick Township

0:22
Police: 19-year-old killed in crash on Route 30 in Atlantic City

Police: 19-year-old killed in crash on Route 30 in Atlantic City

0:28
Wayne Golf professional lays 100 straight holes of golf to raise money for veterans

Wayne Golf professional lays 100 straight holes of golf to raise money for veterans

0:26
Protest planned at Teterboro Airport to oppose geese gassing plans

Protest planned at Teterboro Airport to oppose geese gassing plans

0:26
Paterson’s restaurant week to celebrate city's diverse culinary scene

Paterson’s restaurant week to celebrate city's diverse culinary scene

Is your dad awesome? New Jersey tell us why your dad rocks!

Is your dad awesome? New Jersey tell us why your dad rocks!

0:54
Seaside Heights implements curfew following incident of overcrowded boardwalk

Seaside Heights implements curfew following incident of overcrowded boardwalk

1:11
Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall now on display in East Brunswick

Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall now on display in East Brunswick

0:14
Video shows 2-car crash at Pine Beach intersection; no injuries

Video shows 2-car crash at Pine Beach intersection; no injuries

2:01
Last-minute beachgoers in Seaside Heights brave the rainy, gloomy weather

Last-minute beachgoers in Seaside Heights brave the rainy, gloomy weather

2:23
Kearny launches banner program to remember, honor local war heroes for Memorial Day

Kearny launches banner program to remember, honor local war heroes for Memorial Day