Firemen from Maple Shade and Surrounding Towns Battle In 2- Degree Weather Against Hopeless Odds During Driving Snow Storm; Embers Carried Five Blocks by High Winds; Building Was Erected in 1916; Had Notorious History
One of Maple Shade's show places, the Villa Capri, a restaurant and tavern on Mill road, is gone, destroyed by a raging fire early in the morning of Thursday, Jan. 24.
It had been a show place from the day it was built in 1916 by the late Thomas JS Barlow Jr., as a wedding present for his bride.
Known for years as the Barlow mansion, it stood facing Mill road, the grounds taking up the entire block between Spruce and Maple aves.
The thermometer stood at two degrees above zero when Bobby Walston of 24 E. Woodcrest ave, who plays end for the Philadelphia Eagles, drove by about 2:20 am and saw flames in the place.
He stopped at the first house where he saw a light to spread the alarm. This was at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Elfrey of 407 E. Mill rd.
Mrs. Elfrey had had some friends in for a demonstration the evening before, and she had cleaned up and was just ready to go to bed when the knock came to the door.
After telephoning the police headquarters, Walston ran to the road house and up on the porch where he shouted to see if anyone was still in the place. Windows were already bursting from the heat.
Members of Independent Fire Company 1 were on the scene in less then two minutes and found the entire place a raging inferno.
Chief Harry McCalla immediately summoned help from Lenola and Moorestown. Merchantville also was called for its arial ladder but it was out of commission. So Palmyra was called in for assistance.
Hoses froze in the biting cold. High winds carried burning embers as far as Mildred ave. where McCalla stationed men to keep watch for secondary fires.
One of Lenola's trucks was assisned to pouring water on the house on Spruce ave. immediately adjoining the Villa Capri, to keep it from catching fire.
Mrs. Martha Cust (?), president of the fire auxiliary, showed up early at the fire house and made coffee which was sent to the scene.
Moorestown's Canteen unit showed up with coffee and soup for the fire fighters. Later Gloucester's also was called in.
Firemen's coats became stiff as spray from the fire hoses froze. Footing became uncertain as ice formed on the ground. Dr. Ervin Feltoon stood by at the scene to give medical aid if needed but no one was injured.
After about two hours, the fire was contained and McCalla began sending trucks which had frozen up back to their out-of-town stations. Merchantville Fire Company had "stood by" in their own station throughout the danger period.
By 9:30 am the scene was cleared of apparatus, except for an auxillary pumper and hose wagon from Maple Shade left on standby duty.
The rubble flared about 11:30 am and again about 5 pm but the flames were quickly extinquished.
All that remained standing were the stone walls and the stone fireplaces, grim reminders of the passing of an era.
The place had been built in 1916 by the late Thomas JS Barlow Jr. as a wedding present for his bride Rose. The reception was held in the house, the first of many brilliant social events, and lasted three days.
Barlow was in the real estate business, the family firm, Barlow and Co., having been founded by his father. Its offices were on Main street in what is now the Evans Building
The house had 16 rooms and the appointments were lavish.
Tom's widow, who lives at 47 Cherry ave., recalls that the first floor contained a large kitchen, a dining room, living room, two music rooms, the "blue room," and a bath.
Upstairs were five bedrooms, the library, the den, a sewing room and a powder room. There were walk in closets, probably some of the first in the area.
In the basement was the playroom for the six children, a summer kitchen, a recreation room, and the laundry.
When the depression hit and the bottom fell out of the real estate market, the family lost the mansion. This was in the early '30's. The family moved to a bungalow across the street.
Most of the Barlow children still live in town or nearby. They include Thomas J. of 11 Colman rd., Colwick; Mrs. Marie Watson of 154 S. Fellowship rd; Mrs. Rosemarie Liebeknecht of Pennsville, wife of a doctor; Mrs. Ann Taffart of Elm, NJ; James L. of 110 W. Main st. who is still in the real estate business, and Mrs. Catherine Courtney of Cedar avenue.
The mansion remained empty and idle for years. Then shortly after World War 2 it was purchased by Robert Kennedy of Moorestwon who opened a taproom called the Alhambra. He remodeled extensively during the several years he held the property.
Then it was purchased by Bert Czyewski of Philadelphia who renamed it "Bert's Old Mansion."
Two and a half years ago it was purchased by three brothers , Anthony, Vito, and Rudolph Masso. Anthony who ran the place, lives on Cove road in Pennsauken, Vito on Haddonfield-Berlin road, Voorhees township, and Rudolph at 454 Royden st., Camden.
They did further remodeling, installing new paneling, ceilings and rugs. They also added a banquet room, seating 175, to the rear.
Walls were torn out from between small dining rooms on the second floor and one large dining room was created.
On the first floor were a bar and the two dining rooms and in the basement,a rathskeller and Masso's office.
Anthony Masso said he had checked the place thoroughly before he closed about 1:30 am last Thursday.
There had been no fire in the fireplaces for three days because some work was being done, he said. All candles on the dining tables had been extinquished.
Leaving with him were the bartender, Frank Palladino of Philadelphia, the hostess, Dolores Mirz of Kresson, and two patrons.
Masso said he drove out to the Maple Shade Circle to the scene of an accident, then drove home. He was notified of the fire about 4:10 am.
Some of the items in the place, he added , no insurance would cover, since they are irreplaceable. These included antiques which had been purchased as decorations, and a recently aquired painting of Capri, a beautiful island in the Bay of Naples.
Also lost was $400 to $500 in cash in the basement office, along with all his records.