A fire destroyed Monroe’s indoor mini-golf course in 1930

Before the Monroe Evening Times printed a little hardcover book in 1994, I had no idea Monroe had ever had an indoor golf course. The book included a gorgeous photo of the course with a minimal caption that it was “lost in a fire”. There are three photos on the next page in Looking Back that appear to show some of the remains after the fire, one of which shows the old high school in the background. There really were no other clues as to when the fire occurred or where the building was. After many years of reading old newspapers and manipulating many items of historical interest, I have finally found out when the fire took place and, therefore, where the building was located.

The Monday, February 17, 1930, article began: “A fire that blazed and smoked brilliantly over Monroe at midnight last destroyed the Charles H. Buehler Company garage, 1720-22 12th Street, with estimated total damage by Mr. Buehler at $100,000. .” That meant it was just east of the site of the William Becker fire in 1912, which I wrote about in three columns in April. “It was the most severe and dramatic conflagration in Monroe in years, with only the fact that there was no wind minimizing the danger to other nearby residences.” The loss included approximately 30 automobiles and a large inventory of automobile tires and batteries, accessories, the Pine Gardens indoor golf course, and the newly equipped John Fischbacher beverage lounge.

At the time of writing, it appeared that the fire originated at the western end of the long, single-story structure, possibly from a hard coal heater. Dense smoke initially billowed from every crack in the building and passed through the roof at the southwest corner after firefighters arrived on the scene. Some onlookers thought the firefighters were taking over as the flames were reduced, but the trickles of water did not reach the source of the fire under the tin and paper roof. As the heat spread through the building, the oil and gasoline ignited, causing the entire long roof to erupt in “a ferociously bubbling inferno”.

A more detailed list of losses included: a new Janesville-Monroe bus owned by Wisconsin Power and Light, valued at $7,500; two motor hearses and a small sedan belonging to Shriner Brothers, about $6,700; two tractors and a trailer belonging to Allis Chalmers Company in Milwaukee; a large coupe belonging to Dr. LE Creasy; two cars belonging to Frank Buehler; a coupé belonging to Sam Magdal; a coach belonging to GL Morey with a new washing machine inside; a coupé belonging to PF Steuri; a delivery truck from the Voegeli furniture store; around twenty second-hand cars belonging to the Buehler company; employee-owned tools: Charles A. Jorgenson, Herman Dieckhoff, tire and battery shop operator in the garage, and Charles King; oil supplies; large stock of tires in the Monroe tire store operated in connection with the garage; a stock of batteries and accessories; garage office equipment; Pine Gardens Indoor Golf Course and Equipment; and the new beverage bar fixtures moved into John Fischbacher’s space only a month earlier.

Officer Sam Jones, who was patrolling his neighborhood, noticed the smoke on 12th Street around 11:30 a.m. He inspected the garage premises and found it coming from the west end. He ran to the alarm box and pulled the lever. Within minutes, firefighters had walked the two blocks from the spring plaza and were laying the hose.

The smoke was so dense that they couldn’t do much inside the building. Only two trucks near the northwest gate were removed. It was not immediately obvious that the flames would erupt, but they eventually appeared in the southwest corner. Firefighters were able to douse the flames from the ground to the south, which was roughly level with the roof of the garage.

Four hose threads were stretched, only one from a truck pumper because higher pressure was not needed. The hook-and-ladder pumper operated at the southeast corner of the courthouse square. Another track ran directly from a fire hydrant at 17th Avenue and 14th Street, one from 17th Avenue and 12th Street, and one directly in front of the garage.

“Small explosions in the hot mass were heard frequently and great showers of sparks were hurled upward with leaping flames and thick clouds of light and black smoke. Lack of wind allowed a straight climb. When the whole roof ignited, it was just a matter of spraying jets on the flames to reduce the risk of embers and sparks. The glow diminished by 1 a.m., so the crowd dispersed, but some firefighters stayed on the job with a hose until daybreak.

A direct attack on the seat of the flames was impossible because it was impossible to enter the building effectively, and streams could only be fired here and there when cracks in the roof appeared. The tin and paper roof retained the fire and heat and allowed it to spread along the entire length of the building.

After opening the doors to the east, the smoke cleared. Some of the men thought about removing some of the cars, but the whole roof burst into flames. This made them rush and the whole place was on fire. “The intense heat and water let nothing in the building escape damage.”

When mechanic Charles A. Jorgensen left the garage around 9:30 a.m., everything had seemed normal to him. The walls of the building were made of concrete blocks with a frame covered with metal.

I will share more information about this fire next week.

— Matt Figi is a Monroe resident and local historian. His column will appear periodically on Saturdays in The Times. He can be reached at [email protected] or 608-325-6503.

Michael C. Ford