Fire destroys former Larimer landmark
Share with others:
The building that was Gaines Funeral Home, which for decades served the East End as the longest-operating minority-owned business in Western Pennsylvania, was destroyed Monday evening by a fire of unknown origin.
No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported shortly before 6:30 p.m.
The two-story wood-and-brick structure at 220 Auburn St., a longtime centerpiece to the Larimer neighborhood, was boarded up and had not been used since owner George "Toby" Gaines moved the business to a new facility in Penn Hills almost three years ago.
Still, standing alongside the yellow police tape that cordoned off the area while firefighters worked, Mr. Gaines, who is a chaplain with the police department, expressed his sorrow.
"It's a sad [end] to a great chapter of Pittsburgh history," said Mr. Gaines, who was at his home in Butler when he received a call from the owner of the nearby Stagno's Bakery, who told him that the old building was on fire.
"My family was in business since 1919," Mr. Gaines said. "My dad moved here from Homestead in 1923. I have pictures of the building when there were gas lamps and houses on this street."
The building was the original Mount Ararat Baptist Church and for a long time was called "Funeral Church." Mr. Gaines' father died in 1953, leaving Julia H. Gaines -- a neighborhood icon -- to run the business with her son. Mrs. Gaines yielded primary control of the funeral home to her son in the 1980s, but continued as a part-owner until her death in 2006.
Recently, the vacant building, which was uninsured, had been the target of occasional attempted break-ins.
"There was no attachment to the brick and mortar," he said. "It's just the memories. I've been going into that building since I was a kid. It defies description. The feeling. I mean, you hear about these kind of things happening and you see it on the news all the time. When it happens to you ... I'm kind of numb."
First Published June 7, 2011 12:00 am