Friday Flashback #291

Michael Gilbertie was busy on Facebook’s Westport pages recently. He posted photos of major fires from our past. There were 2 in the same Sconset Square (then called Sherwood Square) shopping center.

One was the Carousel Toy Store:

The other was the Paint Bucket:

(Photos courtesy of Michael Gilbertie)

Remarkably, it was the 2nd fire for Carousel. It had relocated to Sherwood Square after burning to the ground in Compo Acres Shopping Center (where Solidcore is now).

Those were not the only big blazes in local history. Others included the Klaff’s block on the Post Road (across from the downtown Starbucks); Westport Lanes bowling alley (today it’s BevMax), Long Lots Junior High School, and the furniture store on Main Street (now The Gap).

The worst fire in the past decade or so was the 2011 fire at Saugatuck Congregational Church. Heroic work by the Westport Fire Department, and neighboring towns — plus fireproofing, done a few years earlier — saved the building, where Westport’s town charter was born.

In fact, it’s the Fire Department’s ongoing work, including inspections and education — that have kept our town so safe since the 1970s.

21 responses to “Friday Flashback #291

  1. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    I definitely remember when the Carousel toy store burned and witnessed the scene. My late mother worked at the Paint Bucket after graduating from Staples back in the day.

  2. Michael Brennecke

    What years were these past fires? I remember them but not exactly when.

    • The fire on Main Street probably happened in 1976. I say this because I took a photo of the section of Main St with Sloane’s Furniture store still in existence on Xmas morning 1975 and then, in the summer of 1977–when I was clerking for a judge in Stamford—I’m pretty sure I worked on a legal memo pertaining to a case that was connected to the fire.

  3. Jack Backiel

    The fire that destroyed Westport Lanes was caused by the chemicals that were used when the lanes were being refinished. It was rebuilt and became a gem of a business once again. It was totally updated from its original 1958 construction. We were the second modern big pin lane in the state in 1958. I remember the insurance company looked into the possibility of it being purposefully set on fire, but when they looked at our profits, they concluded that no one would destroy a business making the money we were making! The profits were staggering!

    • Jack Backiel

      By the way, we owned the land outright since 1927, when the $5,000 dollar note was paid off, and I believe the building was also owned outright by the 1970s, so there were no bank payments!

      • Dick Keenley

        A good part of my misspent youth was spent shooting pool and playing miniature golf at your family’s fine establishments. Also lived next door to your Turkey Hill property. I walked past the greenhouses all the time to visit my friend Trevor, who lived just uphill from you back in the day (50’s-60’s).

        • Jack Backiel

          Hmmmm.. We didn’t own property on Turkey Hill. We were on So. Morningside Drive, although my uncle owned the last house on South Morningside Dr. which spanned from Morningside to South Turkey Hill, and ran the whole span of Elmstead. He had a modest ranch on two acres. Also, there was no such thing as a misspent youth for anyone who played pool at our establishment! Your days in there probably added to your success!

          • Jack Backiel

            Dick, To clarify, pool halls had a bad rap, however, we worked to make pool playing a family event. We had a female pro give free lessons to women and welcomed women and families to enjoy shooting pool. We also had Willy Mosconi at our place giving an exhibition. We tried to change the image and referred to the business as a billiard parlor!

            • Dick Keenley

              Jack, your billiards / pool room was as nice and as family friendly as they come. I was kidding about the misspent time there – it was a blast! And I apologize, I momentarily got your family confused with another iconic Westport family, the Parcells (Parsells?), who had the nursery across from my elementary school, Greens Farms! We also used to bowl just about every Sunday – my grandfather, Stanley Keplesky would take my cousins and me after church when we were kids. The lanes were the nicest around as well.

              • Jack Backiel

                OMG.. Stanley Keplesky, white house on the left going into South Maple Ave from the Post Rd. He used to come to the golf range and sit and gab with my father and the workers! Helluva nice guy!! There was another Keplesky that moved to Wilmington, NC when he retired. You come from a very special family! If you want, ask Dan for my e-mail.

                • Dick Keenley

                  Yes. His son, my uncle Bill, lived on Jennings Court off of Bayberry Lane and retired to NC where he passed away about 4 or 5 years ago. Stan’s daughter, my mother Arlene, is alive and well at nearly 94. I will ask Dan for your email!

                  • Jack Backiel

                    Dick, I remember now your uncle lived on Jennings Lane and maybe had 5 children, one of which may have worked at the golf range. Stan Keplesky always walked to the golf range from his house. I’m sorry to hear that Bill passed away. I definitely want to connect with you.

  4. How about the car dealership on Riverside AVE?

  5. Chip Stephens SHS 73

    Not sure of the timelines here, The Carousel, Paint Bucket and the Downtown Fires occurred in the 60s I believe I saw the GAP building and the Klaff building go down, Dad was always listening for the fire horn code which was in the local phonebooks.
    You forgot Christ and Holy Trinity had two major fires the worst in the 50’s that burned through the roof, one in the 60’s that burned the front of the church in front of the Alter, then a minor one just a few years back which was minor compared to the others.

  6. The Klaff fire (the entire block) I believe actually happened on the night of the Firemen’s Ball!!. As I recall it was a Saturday evening. I was sitting just up the street enjoying a beverage at The Ship Lantern. The initial attack on the fire was basically anybody who could walk. Hopefully Mike Gilbertie can comment on this. I think maybe mid 70’s??

  7. Dick Keenley

    Carousel fire in Sherwood Square was around `67 or `68 I think. Maybe a year or two earlier. Paint Bucket too. I was in HS and a friend’s dad was engaged to help Carousel settle the insurance claim. He in turn engaged his son and me to take an inventory of the post fire remains. Good times!

  8. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    I’m not sure if this particular fire applies, here?-!Remembering Weston’s Hurlbutt Elementary School fire,October,1963.)
    (Grades 5& 6..I was in 5th grade, remember sadly what was left of the original brick building, afterwards. (My mother used to say there were large pieces of burnt ash in the air for days, afterwards.) I’m not sure when the (wonderful) Rabbi Rubenstein,
    Temple Israel,Westport, back then ,offered the Temple facility to Weston. I’ve Many memories of those two school years at Temple Israel, & walking back home, up
    Lyons Plains Rd. to Weston 🙂

  9. Michael Pettee

    The fire at Long Lots Junior high – the, um, fire proof part of the building!
    The whole building addition was steel. The walls were sheets of steel which was, I guess, thought to be fireproof?

  10. Peter Gambaccini

    It was definitely more tin.