Fire On Brookline Boulevard
June 1, 1973

June 1, 1973 Pittsburgh Press front page clipping showing fire on Brookline Boulevard.

Click on the images for larger pictures.

In the wee hours of the morning, June 1, 1973, a major fire gutted two buildings on the 900 block of Brookline Boulevard and damaged three others. Panicked residents living in the upstairs apartments of four of the five buildings involved were forced to flee as the blaze quickly engulfed two buildings and seriously threatened others.

Tryson's Shoes at 920 Brookline Boulevard and Sesto's Barber Shop at 918 Brookline Boulevard were the buildings that were considered a complete loss.

Severely damaged but salvagable was Brookline News Agency at 922 Brookline Boulevard. Another building housing Zitelli's Boulevard Gardens and The King's Cellar, a bar/restaurant at 914 Brookline Boulevard, also survived the flames with damage confined to the basement. Melmans Super Market, at 924 Brookline Boulevard, suffered minor damage.

Fire on Brookline Boulevard - 1973

The early morning inferno originated in the basement of the shoe store, then spread to the barber shop, news agency and bar. Several families living in the upstairs apartments were awakened and evacuated still dressed in their night clothes. The blaze burned out of control for over two hours.

Firefighters spent most of the daylight hours putting out the stubborn fire, which was brought under control around 9:00am but smoldered throughout the day. Hosemen continued to douse the smoking and flaming debris from caved-in roofs until they were satisfied that there was no more danger.

Fire On Brookline Boulevard - 1973

Six firemen were hospitalized, suffering from injuries or smoke inhalation. Most seriously hurt were firefighter Emerson Turnbull, 40, who suffered a broken elbow when he fell about twenty feet from a ladder, and fireman Thomas Kuczma, who suffered burns on his hands and face. Damages were estimated at $75,000. The two buildings destroyed belonged to Brentwood insurance agent William O. Mulligan.

Soon after the blaze, the buildings that housed Tryson's Shoes and Sesto's Barber Shop were razed. The lots were fenced in and remained vacant for the next eight years. Extensive repairs were made to the News Agency Building and it reopened a few months later. Zitelli's also reopened after a short break. Both remained in business for several more years.

Firefighters examine the aftermath of
the Boulevard Boulevard fire, June 1, 1973

In 1980, buildings that housed the News Agency and Zitelli's were torn down, and the four lot space was used to construct Mazza Pavilion apartments. The senior citizen housing and public parking complex was opened in 1982.

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Some Fond Remembrances Of Tryson's And Sesto's

I remember my mother taking me to buy shoes at Tryson's, and vividly recall the portly gentleman who sold the shoes, Mr. Gutkind. After the fire, he opened a new store in Homestead. For a few more years we made the trip east for shoes.

The building that housed Tryson's Shoes was also, for several decades, the location of Bryant's Hardware, a long-time Brookline establishment. Fortunately, the Bryants had only recently moved their store to another boulevard location.

The building next to Tryson's that housed Sesto's Barber Shop was also steeped with Brookline history. For over a quarter century, Al Sesto was a respected leader in the community. He was a member of the Brookline Businessmen's Association and, along with good friend Frank F. DeBor, was a strong supporter of the growth of the Brookline.

After his death in 1967, Al's wife Sadie, who had worked for many years at the Ritz Beauty Salon, took over the shop. She later sold it to a man I can remember only as "Eddie the Barber".

Ed took over the shop and kept the name Sesto's after the ownership change. Sadie Sesto went back to work at the beauty shop and continued until she was well into her eighties. She passed away in August, 2000.

My father used to take me to Sesto's for haircuts. Instead of sitting me in a barber chair, Eddie the Barber would put me on a decorative red horse, then give me a trim. For many years, there was also a kindly gentleman named Earl who shined shoes.

After the fire, Eddie the Barber opened a new store in Castle Shannon near Linden Grove were he continued to cut hair for several years. The red horse, unfortunately, did not survive the blaze.

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Celeste Auen, a granddaughter of Al Sesto who still lives in Brookline, wrote the following:

"When the shop burned, one of the fondest connections with my grandfather was gone. That shop held some wonderful memories for me. The red horse was one. Another memory was the man who shined shoes. I knew him as 'Uncle Earl.' He was a wonderful, gentle man that we loved as a family member. I don't know what happened to Earl, but he has a very special place in my heart."

"I love living in Brookline. I was born and raised here and feel that this is where I belong. I have always felt a strong sense of community here."

Brookline Boulevard Shops - 1933
The four buildings along the 900 block of Brookline Boulevard that were damaged in the fire are
shown here in 1933. The barber pole stands outside of Al Sesto's shop.

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