A patron asked me if I knew anything about a big fire on Greenwich Avenue during the 1920s or 1930s. I had seen a couple of photos in the library's John Gotch photo collection, but didn't have first-hand knowledge. So I researched the Greenwich Publications Index and came up with some information.
In the 12/1/1921 Greenwich Press, there is an article on a big fire that started at 8:20 pm the night before in the Ponty Building on Lewis Street. Seven fire companies responded to the alarm. The fire lasted all night, and four families were displaced. Not only did the Ponty Building burn down, but the Moshier and Widmann Buildings were also damaged. Four businesses were effected: The Walter Stewart Company, The R.B. Wilbur Company (a haberdashery - hat store), The Shirley waist Company (corset distributer) and Sterling Bakeries. Furthermore, several social groups had held meetings in the buildings: The Red Men, Elks, Woodsmen of the World,and The Catholic Daughters of America.
It was reported that a janitor had gone down to the basement of the Ponty Building to start a furnace for a wedding party holding a reception in the Red Men's Hall. As the janitor was walking back up the stairs, he was met by a wall of fire! Another man, a bookeeper, discovered the fire, and called the Fire Department. Then another man leaving a barber shop ran to the Amogerone Fire House to alert them to the fire. The firemen arrived within minutes.
The flames could be seen as far away as Port Chester. Ten thousand feet of hose was laid out to fight the blaze. Hydrants on Greenwich Avenue, Lewis Street and Mason Street were put into service. Hundreds of people from Stamford and Port Chester came to town see the fire.
At 10pm, the fire was at its height. The windows blew out of the Ponty Building due to the severe draft caused when a chimney crashed thorugh the roof. The crowd was showered with glass and splinters. Falling live wires snapped with electricity. One fireman was stranded on the roof and had to make his way down a stairway that had red-hot railings. Another fireman received a deep gash in his left arm from falling glass. He didn't realize he was seriously injured until he became weak and fainted. Fortunately, he was transported to the hospital in time to save his life. Other firemen were threatened by wobbling chimneys, but they escaped unharmed.
The 100-or-so wedding reception guests had to evacuate the Red Men's Hall. Many children were in attendance. Some women left so quickly that they left their valuable furs behind! Tenants in the adjacent buildings packed their bags in case they had to evacuate. One person reported that a little kitten floating in a cardboard box had to be rescued. The cat didn't seem the least bit afraid!
As they usually do in any emergency, Greenwich residents stepped up to help the cause. Since the fire lasted all night, the Friends of the Amogerone Fire Company handed out coffee rolls and coffee. The Knights of Columbus stayed open all night and provided food. Eleven-hundred sandwiches were made and distributed! Sterling Bakeries provided pies, while Boswell's Drug Store supplied cigars and cigarettes.
This fire was called the worst fire in town since 1900. Four buildings were damaged. The cost estimate was $60,000 - a fair amount in 1921 dollars. Ironically, a month before the building was closed, the landlord had asked the Times Cleaning and Dyeing Company and the Reynolds Barber Shop to vacate the building so some fire hazards could be removed. Unfortunately, no action had been taken during that time.
Another smaller fire occured on March 21, 1933. It effected upper Greenwich Avenue. A fire broke out in some storage barns outside of the Press Building on the Pickwick Land Company property. It broke out at 8:30 pm, and was subdued in one-hour. The fire had been smouldeing for some time. A soaking rain over the previous weekend helped deter the fire. Firefighters from the Amogerone Fire Company responded quickly - since it was just across the street! Incidently, a woman had called in the fire, but failed to identify the location.
Since the Press Building was used to store cars, eleven automobiles had to be moved. One had to be pushed out since it wouldn't start. Paint, oils and turpentine used by the D.K. Allen Company had to be moved from an adjacent building due to the fire threat. Guests in the Pickwick Arms Hotel were nervous as the fire approached and they could feel the heat through the window glass. Fortunately, it was quickly extinguished. The only injury reported was a fireman, who fell 8-feet off a ladder. His injuries were not serious.
Damages were estimated at $10,000. Two cars were destroyed, and the Pickwick Arms lost awnings, screens and outdoor furniture. Five years earlier - on October 16, 1928 - a barn adjoining the hotel suffered a fire due to spontaneous combustion. Fortunately, it only caused about $200 damage.