April 13, 2021
Back in 1934, Epstein, like most companies, was suffering from the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. Epstein Founder Abraham Epstein had his staff working a quarter of the time, as he wanted to ensure he could keep everyone employed. But, from what his son, Sidney Epstein, told our director of business development and marketing, Noel Abbott, that wasn’t a long-term solution. In fact, layoffs and even a firm closure were distinct possibilities. On May 19, 1934, however, a fire erupted and burned a significant portion of the Stockyards, including its International Amphitheatre, where each year the famed Livestock Exposition was held in front of thousands.
From what Sid described to Noel, his dad got a call from the Union Stockyards while the fire was still burning, saying they needed his help rebuilding the Stockyards as well as the Amphitheatre. However, the new 10,000-seat arena needed to be designed, engineered, built and ready for use by December 1, 1934 – a mere 196 days!
Sid, who was 11 at the time of the fire, said he didn’t see his dad for over a week after that phone call. And, just like that, the entire Epstein staff was back full-time and actually working round the clock to meet the Stockyards ambitious (to say the least) schedule.
The images you see above show just how unbelievable this rebuild assignment was, and the herculean effort of the Epstein staff. The photo on the upper left, taken on August 21st, shows the installation of the first of the Amphitheatre’s 200’ steel trusses, which happened to be the world’s largest trusses of their kind at the time. The image directly below shows that a little under 3 weeks later, all the trusses were erected and the roof is being installed. And, the photo in the bottom right corner, shows opening night, December 1, with a fully completed and occupied International Amphitheatre. Unbelievable – 196 days from destruction to reincarnation!
Lastly, and most importantly, this fire kept the Epstein firm fully engaged on dozens of facility and site rebuilds for the Union Stockyards over the ensuing months and years, which truly saved our firm; allowing us to not only withstand the Great Depression but, in a matter of few months, reach our 100th anniversary!
The Epstein staff responsible for delivering the International Amphitheatre can be seen in the below photo: