|Louis C. Taylor - Tucson Az|
I don’t know if Louis Taylor set the fire at the old Pioneer Hotel in Tucson in 1970.
I never heard of Louis or the Pioneer Hotel Fire before I encountered some of the dead ghosts still inhabiting the place, now an office building.
The fire happened December 20, 1970, killing 28. The owners of the Hotel and the Department Store across the street died in their penthouse suite of smoke inhalation. Many were trapped on other floors by the fire.
The Video below from Sixty Minutes is the best overall audio video abridged version of everything including Sixty Minutes interest and broadcasts over the past decade or so that ignited interest in a case long buried by the interconnected interests of the white fathers that ran Tuscon Arizona in 1970.
I was sitting at my desk one day in my job at a Federal Agency in Tucson in 1991, about midday, when I smelled smoke. The hairs on my neck were immediately raised. I felt a terrible panic and wanted to walk across the room to the fire alarm on the wall and pull it.
Instead I acted prudently and walked to the next desk over and told my co-worker “I smell smoke. There’s a fire in the building. We have to sound the alarm and evacuate everybody in the office.”
The lady looked up at me. She was seated at her desk. She seemed to take too long to process my information and then calmly spoke.
“There is no fire Michael. You do not smell any smoke.”
I took a breath and gave her a puzzled look in return. Then she continued.
"That happens all the time here. It has to do with the Pioneer Hotel Fire. This building was converted to office space after the fire. In fact anybody around here who has to come in on Saturday will not come in alone because of the ghosts. ...”
That was when I first heard of the Pioneer Hotel Fire.
After that, since I was new in town and wanted to make conversation sometimes, my favorite topic was where were you the night of the Pioneer Hotel Fire if I found out they were native to town or had been here since WWII etc.
Got many stories.
A co-worker told me that the Tucson Fire Department had been called and put out a smouldering trash fire out in front of the building late in the day. He had been doing some Christmas shopping downtown the same day of the fire that night.
In fact this guy was Hispanic and mentioned how the Pioneer was the only first class hotel that was preferred by rich Mexicans traveling north over the border and shopping for Christmas.
And like the many stories about 911 that got mentioned on Spanish speaking media, he had his own version of how the Mexican guests did not speak English and the Police and Fire Departments had no Spanish speaking employees at the time.
The story was about the Mexicans screaming from the windows and the crews on the ground not understanding them and not knowing how what to shout or use a bull horn to convey life-saving information up to them in the burning tower.
From this Hispanic co-worker I also got the story of how an important Mexican official was booked in the hotel and missed the fire because he was “having dinner with the mayor” which was supposedly confirmed by the mayor. Truth was or rumor was that this Mexican official was tomcating around the Barrio that night.
Another co-worker had told me that she then worked in a shoe store and that her boss had booked space in the ballroom, a table, that night for a Company Christmas Party. I got this story from another person at another time about how the ballroom bookings were all cancelled because at the last minute, the largest employer in the city, Hughs Missile, booked its own Christmas Party and got preferential treatment in that placement.
One of the things that went missing that night of the fire was the hotel register and the listing of any last minute private parties branching off of the main Hughes Party.
Another thing I had heard here and there was that there were way more (way, way more) than 350 Hughes employees supposedly there that night, and coincidentally the official capacity of that ballroom.
I filed some of this info away in my head these many years. Speaking of the ballroom, one of my tasks of the Federal Agency I briefly worked at was to retrieve stored records in the basement of the building when that agency’s lease was up and we moved across the street to another building.
The records, boxes were stored in makeshift chicken wire cages that were scattered about this room in the basement of what had once been the Hotel's main lobby and or the ballroom’s Men’s Room with its many urinals and stalls and toilets collecting dust.
Rather an eerie feeling to be in a room full of art-deco era mini decorative tile work, seeing it in dusty decay and knowing that the last time this room was used as a lavatory was that fateful night of December 20, 1970.
Backing up a little and before the move, we were on the same floor of the building with other tenants including that of a law office. We as an office had been invited by the Law Offices to a Christmas buffet down the hall. Our office manager had to investigate and issue a written memo stating that we could accept this small offer of food from this law firm, no known improprieties or doing business with this Fed Agency etc.
It was near the end of the day and the food spread was quite first rate. I shook hands with head honcho lawyer and he introduced me to two little old ladies, his aunts who were sisters, in their seventies I think. I got to talk briefly with them and the topic of the Pioneer Hotel Fire got mentioned mainly because it was December 20th that particular day and the twentieth something anniversary of the fire.
It was then that I learned that these two ladies were of all things retired undertakers. That there was an old boarded up funeral parlor down the street and seemingly abandoned like so much of downtown where businesses had moved and regrouped in the new Malls sprouting up in all directions of a growing town.
Getting back to the Funeral Parlor, there was an old silver 1966 silver Cadillac hearse with Black leather roof abandoned in the driveway behind a padlocked chain link fence on the side of the building, with flat tires and the black leather bleached a lighter color in the Arizona sun.
As it turned out the top floor was not boarded up or abandoned but was the home of these retired undertaker ladies.
It was from them I also heard the same tale of the problem of communicating with the Mexicans residents of the blazing hotel, the ladies being eyewitnesses that night. They also told the grim story and relayed the grim image of bodies in body bags stacked in their business' cellar because the few funeral parlors in Tucson at the time were all maxed out that night on bodies to be ID-ed and processed.
Many people I have talked to over the years said that Louis Taylor got a raw deal. Interrogated for hours, promised a juvenile trial, signing away his rights without an attorney etc. That and he was supposed to be slow in his thought processes or so the story went by those who were sympathetic to his plight.
I have done other research and or reading over the years and have come to my own conclusion as to what killed 28 people in the Pioneer Hotel Fire.
The primary reason was that the Hotel was a fire trap and had been grandfathered once too often and was out of date in terms of code. That the owner of the hotel was a big wheel in Tucson. His Department Store across the Street is where now stands a plaza and the Main Tucson Public Library. This was where the rich Mexicans had come to do their Christmas shopping.
That until the Pioneer Fire, Downtown Tucson had managed to survive as a typical main street America shopping area that had resisted Shopping Mall development just over the horizon.
The hotel fire not only killed 28 people, it killed downtown.
That the stairs in the hotel were open and not boxed in as is now a modern standard concept of fire safety, keeping fires from spreading from floor to floor. Variances no doubt filed for and approved by the city over the years on that gem.
That the hotel did not have a live sprinkler system. It had a very old fashioned “dry pipe” system where in time of a fire, the fire department is supposed to pump the water into the system. Sounds so 1890s skyscraper New Yorkish. Variances no doubt filed for and approved by the city over the years on that gem as well.
One last thing, I worked briefly as a temp with a woman who said she chaired some sort of Republican welcoming committee for Vice President Spiro Agnew the previous year, 1969. And she told me that she was not sure which party, the committee, the hotel or the secret service that had installed dozens of telephone lines for the press and the Vice President staying at or speaking at the hotel, she was not certain if those wires ever got removed from what sounded like the empty dry sprinkler pipes to me etc.
So everybody my age remembers what they were doing when JFK got shot. People now living and adults can remember what they were doing 911. The people of Tucson remember December 20, 1970 if they are of a certain age.
You’ve got a hotel, its rooms overflowing with Christmas shoppers, with private parties, booze flowing, trash piling up in hall trash cans, cigarette butts flying, lost hotel registers, overcrowded ballroom, and a building code nightmare that was an accident or a tragedy waiting to happen.
You’ve got bureaucrats running around, you've got hotel management and insurance companies to worry about - liabilities against the hotel and the estate of the now dead owner of the hotel.
You’ve got possible cables from the Mexican government to the State Department regarding dead VIP Mexican citizens.
You’ve got Building Code Violations, unreasonable time extensions for unsafe grandfathering of a public building still operating in archaic 1929 building and safety conditions etc.
And going back to the little old lady retired undertakers, their nephew the lawyer was also a cousin of the then mayor of Tucson in 1970. There was like a half dozen families back then that dominated the city and county governments on all levels, police, sheriff, fire, building dept., mayor’s office, judges etc.
It does not take rocket science to see that Louis Taylor got framed for the failure of the whole white ruling tier of Tucson Society circa 1970.
Enjoy the rest of your life Louis. A lot of people, A LOT, have been concerned and been praying for you for decades.
Justice delayed is better than no justice at all.