What's the deal with this 1930's fireplace?

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New Member
Nov 18, 2022
Hello! I'm new to the forum, and hoping some of you knowledgeable folks could offer some answers or insight into my fireplace (because Google search seems like it just keeps getting worse and worse!)

I've been in the house for 2.5 years, it was built in 1930 and is located in Northeastern Oklahoma. It has a basement and one main floor. The fireplace seems to be extremely shallow and I believe potential modifications over the years are adding to my confusion. I think it's a beautiful fireplace, and I wish the previous owners hadn't painted over it, but it is what it is.

There are two chimneys in the house; one which exits the roof and is the exhaust for the water heater and furnace. The other chimney (which is part of this fireplace) was decommissioned at some point, and extends into the attic to a foot or two below the roof. So at some point in the houses history, this fireplace was exhausting flue gas.

In the basement, beneath the fireplace, there is a gas line which leads to the hole in the floor of the fireplace. On the main floor, just to the left of the fireplace in the floor, is a shutoff valve. So at one time there was natural gas being burned, and at one time (maybe the same time, maybe not?) there was flue gas exiting through the roof. But now, the back of the fireplace curves upwards towards the top of the fireplace, and it's completely blocked off from the chimney. My theory is that the back of the fireplace was added to block off the chimney in an aesthetically pleasing way, due to the inefficiencies of the old system.

But there are a few inconsistencies with that theory. In the second picture, you can see the brick on the side of the fireplace is nested partially under the brick that forms the archway (highlighted in red). If this brick was added after the original construction, that would mean that brick on either side would have been cantilevered, which I have a tough time believing. The other option is that the side brick was original, and the only modification was the back brick to block off the chimney, except the side brick and back brick appear to be the exact same dimensions. I know brick size is mostly standardized, but I would be surprised if 1930 brick was the exact same size as 19-whenever-they-closed-off-the-chimney brick. Unless maybe they used the brick salvaged from decommissioning the chimney?

I would love to one day add a small ventless fireplace. I've learned ventless gas fireplaces can be pretty controversial, and in this house it would be used for occasional brief ambiance/comfort. But the dimensions of the fireplace aren't very accepting of most ventless gas fireplaces available. Furthermore, I'd have to remove the latex paint and re-coat with high heat paint, which seems like a nightmare.

Any advice or insight would be greatly appreciated!

What's the deal with this 1930's fireplace?
What's the deal with this 1930's fireplace?
What's the deal with this 1930's fireplace?
Is it possible that that is a Rumford fireplace? They were designed shallow and tall for better heat output. (This is just a guess I'm no expert). It's really a beautiful fireplace. Bet the original stone and brick looked awesome
Rumford fireplaces have angled flat sidewalls. This is not one. Afaik.
I have removed latex from firebrick with paint stripper. It went ok. The smooth brick is nice to work on. The sandstone was much more difficult. Lots of brushing. I might consider having it media blasted.

I’m guessing it was a fireplace for a coal insert. If there is no actual flue ventless it the only option. And occasional winter use would probably ok in your climate.

I was thinking something like this maybe .

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That was my thought too. Looks like either a coal fireplace which may have been converted to gas at some point, or may have even started as a gas fireplace with one of the older style gas radiant heaters. ...which I guess were a hot new thing in the 20s / 30s.

I would think given the chimney seems to be sealed off at both ends - and likely very suspicious condition in between - then you'd either be looking at major rehab work, ventless gas, or electric. The coal baskets linked above look really neat. Some of the gas radiant heaters:

What's the deal with this 1930's fireplace?What's the deal with this 1930's fireplace?

I believe they even make electric coal baskets and possibly even electric radiant heaters, too.
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Thanks guys! My parents house a mile from here had one of those radiant style gas heaters so I think you're onto something! I sincerely appreciate the input, it's been driving me mad trying to sort out how it was originally! I think ventless gas is the route I'll be taking due to cost constraints.
Ventless gas is not ventless. It is "vented inside". So all the moisture and CO2, and if things go bad, the CO will be vented in your room.

I'd never install a burner that vents its exhaust into my room.