A Uniting Flame: Looking Back on the 50th Anniversary of the Westcott Fire


Fire at the Westcott Building – Florida State University. 1969. Black & white photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/11165>.

An iconic structure of Florida State’s campus, the gothic-styled Westcott Building was once threatened by a massive blaze on April 27, 1969. The fire started in the roof above the fourth floor, spreading beneath the sheetrock ceiling and causing intense damage throughout the fourth floor. The Westcott Building housed the University’s administration as well as the art department at the time and attention turned to not only saving the building and human lives, but the innumerable valuable documents and pieces of art stored within the structure.

As the April 28, 1969 edition of the Florida Flambeau notes, the art department was deemed a total loss but a painting by Reubens valued at $30,000 dollars, as well as work by FSU faculty member Dr. Karl Zerbe, valued at $50,000 were safely extracted from the inferno by brave students. Florida Flambeau editor Sam Miller details some of the more memorable moments from the scene:

“After the fire was out, students again poured in to try to salvage the paintings from the third floor. Perhaps the first comic relief of the evening came when two students carried out a bigger-than-life painting of a psychedelic nude.”

Miller, sam. “Differences forgotten in crisis: Everyone ‘Really pulled together.’ Florida flambeau. April 28, 1969. p1.
Students and staff alike banded together to save documents and other objects from the flames. 1969. FSU Digital Libraries, Heritage and University Archives. <http://purl.flvc.org/fcla/dt/3163787>

For those interested in taking a step into the University’s past, we invite you to view the linked 13 minute video that includes a variety of moments from FSU in 1969, including the Westcott Fire (skip ahead to 3:25). You can check it out here.

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