On the evening of May 31, 1924, about 8:45 p.m., fire was discovered in the Hope Development School, at Playa del Rey, near Venice, California.
As the result the matron and twenty-three of the forty-one girls at the school lost their lives. The matron gave her life attempting to save her wards. All of those rescued were led or carried to safety by the assistant matron.
This was a privately operated school for subnormal girls, although county wards were inmates at the time. One of the girls admitted that she started the fire to get away from the place. This may or may not have been true in view of her mental condition.
Previous to the fire all occupants of the building, except the assistant matron who was in her room upstairs, had retired, and the fire was discovered simultaneously by several outsiders. One of these drove to the building, gave the alarm, and attempted to rescue the inmates. Because of the rapid spread of the fire this was impossible, so he drove to the nearest fire station, about two and one-half miles away, to give the alarm. In doing this he passed five fire alarm boxes, one of which was within two blocks of the school building.
This building, built about 1900, was of frame construction, about 60 by 80 feet, two stories, with small basement which opened out on the beach. It was originally planned for a hotel, had been vacant for many years, and, about three years before the fire, it had been leased to the school. The proprietor of the school was absent at the time searching for a safe place to house the girls. Housing conditions in Southern California played their part in the tragedy. The fire chief of Venice had inspected the place from time to time, realized the danger, and while he had no authority to condemn it, had personally taken fire extinguishers into the building, placing them on the walls.
On the arrival of the first fire company the men found the entire building in flames, and by the time they had taken suction the northeast and south walls, as well as the roof, were falling in. The lives had been lost and the building destroyed before the arrival of the fire department.
1. "Development School, Playa del Rey, Calif., May 31,1924", 1000 School Fires, A record of 1000 school fires and major school disasters, October, 1939, Boston, Mass., page 15.