Roof Collapses At Old Gately’s People’s Store Building As Firefighters Battle Extra-Alarm Blaze

Chicago News

CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago firefighters have spent several hours battling a three-alarm fire at the old Gatelys Peoples store building in Roseland, which was once considered the largest department store on Michigan Avenue, but has been mostly vacant since 1994.

The fire started around 3:30 a.m. at the old Gately’s department store building at 112th and Michigan. Chicago Fire Department District Chief Jack Nagle said heavy flames were coming through the roof when the first crews arrived, and within 20 minutes, a 2-11 alarm was called to bring in extra firefighters.

By 4:15 a.m., the alarm was raised to a 3-11, bringing a total of about 125 firefighters to the scene. While crews were able to contain the blaze to the Gately’s building, Nagle said firefighters likely would be at the scene several hours due to the size of the fire, to make sure it doesn’t flare up again once the flames are doused.

Firefighters were still at the scene late Friday morning, pouring water on hot spots long after the worst of the fire was out. Crews were kept out of the building for several hours, due to the dangerous conditions inside after most of the roof collapsed.

“Luckily, a lot of the building’s vacant. There’s not a lot of contents in there. So it’s mostly the roof structure that appears to be involved in the fire,” Nagle said. “The majority of the roof has come in. That’s the reports we’re getting from our baskets.”

No injuries were reported, but many people in the community were at a loss for words seeing a relic of Roseland’s past being destroyed.

Gately’s closed its doors in 1994, and most of the building, which is five stories high in some parts, has been vacant since then, although there are a few small businesses on the ground floor.

Roseland resident Bernard Kelly said he still remembers when Gately’s was described as the biggest department store on Michigan Avenue, so it was painful to see the building going up in flames.

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“It hurts. It hurts. I hope it comes back, but it will never be Gately’s,” Kelly said. “It was a family store. You name it, it was there. This was our mall.”

Kelly said Gately’s used to be part of a bustling shopping district in Roseland, which has seen a major decline in the past couple decades.

A vintage photograph of Gately’s People’s Store, once considered the largest department store on Michigan Avenue. (Source: South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society)

“Back in the day, J.C. Penney’s was here, all the stores, Robert Hall [clothing store]. Back in the day when everybody was getting the S&H stamps and plaid stamps and all that, this is it,” he said.

Nagle said it was not clear how much damage was caused to the businesses in the building, since firefighters have not yet gone inside.

“Until we can ascertain the condition of the structure, we’re not going to put anybody inside. We’re not going to risk any injuries until we can determine that the building is safe for us to make an interior attack,” he said.

The fire appeared to have started on the upper floors of the building. The cause is under investigation.

Now mostly a vacant building, Gately’s People’s Store closed in 1994, but was a bustling department store in the 1950s and 60s. (Source: South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society)

Due to numerous code violations and other ongoing issues, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) questioned the cause of the fire.

“It raises a lot of suspicions, and the Fire Department’s going to do a thorough investigation to find out exactly what’s the cause of this fire,” he said.

Beale said he would recommend the immediate demolition of the building due to the extensive damage.

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