Skip to Content

The La Rose Shop Fire: Greensburg’s Deadliest Fire

This post contains a graphic image which may be disturbing to children and some people. Please use discretion.

La Rose Shop Building Sign

Greensburg has seen its share of deadly fires over the years. In 1972, two men were killed in a fire at the Penn Albert Hotel. Numerous people have lost their lives in house fires. However, nothing stands out as much as the La Rose Shop fire in 1961 where five people lost their lives.

La Rose Shop Greensburg Advertisement

Greensburg La Rose Shop Advertisement

The La Rose Shop was a family-owned women’s clothing store located on South Main Street. The three-story brick building was built in 1913 and in 1915 housed a theater. 

After the closing of the theater, the building was remodeled in 1956 to become the La Rose Shop. A fire escape was removed from the rear of the building and partitions were constructed on the second floor to make dressing rooms. The third floor was used for a seamstress shop and also for mannequin storage. 

Fire Breaks Out at the La Rose Shop

Shortly after 8 p.m. on October 19, 1961 several customers reported smelling smoke coming from the basement of the store. Employees tried to use two different phones to call in the alarm, but the phone lines were dead. At 8:18 p.m. an alarm was sent from a box on the street. 

It wasn’t the fire itself that was the problem, but the smoke. The thick, heavy smoke spread very rapidly, carried by the ventilation system, and filling the building. Within minutes the lights on the first floor went out. 

La Rose Shop Greensburg Newspaper Advertisement

A newspaper clipping from the day after the fire.

Despite the rapid response from Greensburg’s fire department, the building was quickly filling with smoke. At the time of the fire, only one person was on the third floor (she fled to the second floor), 19 people were on the main floor (they escaped), and 10 customers and 11 employees were on the second floor. No one was in the basement. 

The store’s owner, Alex Cohen, was one of the individuals trapped on the second floor. Alex and the other employees tried to escape through a rear stairway but smoke forced them back. Five individuals were able to escape through small windows and down fire ladders. Eleven others were rescued when a 24-foot extension ladder was raised to a window. 

An Act of Bravery

When those who were trapped in the fire were brought out, many of them were semiconscious and in extreme shock. No one mentioned the owner and his four employees. By the time the 11 were rescued, the owner and employees had been overcome by smoke. It turns out, those five individuals had held back in order to allow the others to escape first. They were found still in a small room on the second floor.

Long-time Greensburg fire chief Eddie Hutchinson has been on thousands of calls over the years, but the La Rose Shop fire is the one that sticks with him the most. Recalling the incident, he said “We took eight out of the front from the second floor. I was at the top of the ladder. The last one out was a lady who was seven months pregnant.”

The La Rose Building’s New Life

After the fire, the building was repaired but the La Rose Shop eventually closed in 1977. Afterwards, the building was home to a nonprofit, and also a sandwich shop. The building remained vacant for more than 10 years before it was purchased and converted into loft apartments. The bottom floor was designed to be retail space while the top two floors would be one-bedroom apartments.

The new owners referenced the historic store by calling the building La Rose Lofts. 

Main Street Greensburg La Rose Shop

For year, the front of the building had been covered by blue glass tiles. During the renovation of the building, the tiles were removed, revealing the original windows from which people were rescued from during the fire. 

La Rose Shop Sign

If you look closely, on the wall between the St. Vincent de Paul and the La Rose building there is still an old neon sign advertising the La Rose Shop. It serves as a silent reminder of the tragedy that occurred there.

 

Keep Reading…

Sharing is caring!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Linda

Saturday 3rd of October 2020

I, too, remember it well and also the classmate, a lovely person, whose mother died in the fire. The incidence, at the time and even now, was so incongruent with everything that was Greensburg to me growing up there.

Leslie Rojohn

Sunday 13th of September 2020

But those who perished were forgotten. Alex Cohen, and four others. Well one of those "others" was my mother. Betty Combes Rojohn. All these years and I never knew till this day, that she died a hero. No one bothered to mention it to me at my mothers funeral. I'm an old lady now, and just find this out by the wonders of the internet. Coby Bryant and seven others. Alex Cohen and four others. The rich and powerful get mentioned by name and then there's "the others." As we approach October my love of autumn is always blunted by my sadness and loss. Betty Combes Rojohn. Remember her name.

Dale Brown

Thursday 8th of April 2021

@Leslie Rojohn, My wife, Paula Baughman Brown, was a classmate at Westmoreland Hospital School of Nursing of your sister Karen at the time of the fire. Your mother came immediately to mind when I saw this item, so be assured she has not been forgotten. BTW, our eldest daughter is named Leslie, mainly because I liked your name, so you are not forgotten, either, in our family.

BobLeffler

Wednesday 19th of August 2020

I wish you had listed those who died and never to be forgotten. Among those was our neighbor from southwest, Elsie Marlino, a great friend and neighbor who we all loved.

Cathi R.

Tuesday 16th of April 2019

My mother, several of my siblings and I were waiting in front of G. C. Murphy’s for the last bus home when we heard the blaring sirens and then saw the smoke and flames across the street. I was terrified and ran around the corner of the building, covering my ears and squeezing my eyes shut in fear. I eventually made my way back to my mom and we gathered in shock until the bus came. I will always remember that frightful night. May those who perished never be forgotten.

Suzan Firment

Tuesday 29th of January 2019

Thanks for the details about this past fire. I was only 12 yrs. Old then & so I didn't know some of these facts.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.