M. Spencer Green  /  AP
Investigators are seen taking photos from the windows of the LaSalle Bank building in Chicago late Tuesday.
updated 12/8/2004 9:53:03 AM ET 2004-12-08T14:53:03

LaSalle Bank officials are thankful that no one was killed in a fire at their high-rise headquarters, but they are worried the blaze might have claimed part of the company’s multimillion-dollar collection of rare photographs.

Officials will not know the severity of damage to the collection until the fire department allows them back into the building.

“We expect there will be damage to it,” said Hill Hammock, LaSalle Bank Corp.’s vice chairman and chief operating officer. “We haven’t had access to the building.”

The fire in the 43-story building burned for 5 1/2 hours Monday night. More than 30 people were injured, most of them firefighters. The fire department continued to search for clues to the cause early Wednesday.

‘Irreplaceable’ photos among 4,500 in collection
The bank’s collection of 4,500 works includes photos by nature photographer Ansel Adams, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot.

“It’s one of the oldest and largest photography collections in the corporate environment,” LaSalle curator Carol Ehlers said.

About 1,000 pieces are stored in two temperature-controlled vaults on the bank’s 15th floor, while many others are displayed in offices around the building, officials said.

The fire engulfed the 29th floor and spread to the 30th, and officials said photos on other floors also could have been damaged by smoke and water.

“It’s a matter of what’s hanging in all those offices,” Art Institute of Chicago photography curator David Travis said. “We’re all ready to put on dungarees and go over there and do whatever it takes. Many of those pictures are totally irreplaceable.”

Rescue techniques improved
Chicago fire department officials improved high rise rescue techniques after six people died in a fire in October 2003 at a 35-story county government building. The victims died of smoke inhalation in a locked stairwell.

On Monday, up to 75 firefighters were assigned to a “rapid ascent team,” their only mission searching for trapped occupants.

“They start going up and down stairwells and floor by floor, searching from top to bottom,” department spokesman Larry Langford said. The department also conducted fire drills at 170 high-rises in the city since the fatal fire — including the LaSalle building.

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