Fire Destroys McLean’s Codman Building [VIDEO]

Photo: The aftermath of the fire that destroyed the Codman House at McLean Hospital.

A two-alarm fire destroyed the former Codman House on the McLean Hospital campus early Monday morning, Nov. 14.

The blaze, which required fire equipment from neighboring towns of Watertown, Arlington, and Cambridge, started just before 3 a.m. At its height, the glow of the flames could be seen as far as Cushing Square.

According to Belmont Fire Chief David L. Frizzell, the building is a total loss as parts of the building – located in the northern section of the 300-acre campus – will be pulled down to allow fire crews to extinguish any remaining fire smoldering in the debris.

Frizzell said a cause of the fire would not be determined for some time.

A statement from the hospital thanked the “Belmont Fire Department’s rapid response” which contained the fire “to that one building and no other areas of the McLean campus.”

“We are deeply grateful to the Belmont Fire Department, Belmont Police Department, and first responders from surrounding municipalities for their efforts this morning,” said the McLean statement.

Frizzell said Belmont Police were investigating smoke on Concord Avenue when a 911 call came from McLean of a fire in the abandoned structure. Arriving fire crews found “a heavy volume” of flames coming out of the second and third floors.

Frizzell said the blaze was initially difficult to fight as the building was mothballed and fire lines had to be stretched over a long distance. He said the crews were fortunate that the building was unoccupied and far enough away from other building in the vicinity.

It had taken about two hours before firefighters got the fire under control, said Frizzell, who said that crews would spend the rest of the day putting out the last of the fire. He said no firefighters that he knew were injured.

McLean, which has been located off Mill Street for more than 120 years, is the largest psychiatric facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and is owned by Partners HealthCare.


The Codman was once the women’s geriatric ward where “‘the ladies of Codman’ staged elaborate tea parties on silver service for [Psychiatrist Robert Coles] and other young residents in the late 1950s” wrote Alex Beam in his history of McLean, Gracefully Insane, The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital.


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