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Elderly man dies in Beltzhoover fire

| Saturday, April 7, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

An elderly man who a neighbor said was once a concert violinist died in an early morning blaze at his Beltzhoover home Saturday.

The victim, whose identity was withheld pending notification of his next of kin, was found lying in the first-floor bedroom, said Deputy Chief John Gourley.

Firefighters arrived at the man's home in the 500 block of Beltzhoover Avenue about 5:45 a.m. and had the fire under control within 20 minutes, Gourley said.

The blaze was confined to the first-floor bedroom where the man was found. There was an estimated $10,000 damage to the two-story structure, Gourley said.

The cause of the fire was undetermined yesterday, Gourley said.

Kim Brown, 40, whose family lived next door to the victim for more than 30 years, said the former barber was also a concert violinist until he was injured serving in the military during World War II. He later crafted the instruments he had played, she said.

'He would make violins and cellos in his house,' Brown said. 'He used to show them to me. He would make them for his granddaughters.'

Brown said her long-time neighbor was a green-thumb and vegetarian who produced his own foods, including peanut butter and bean sprouts.

He was health conscious, she said, regularly walking the 10 blocks to the local grocery store.

And although he had been widowed for decades, he appeared to live well on his own, she said, doing odd jobs like repairing clocks and watches.

'He was still a barber,' Brown said. 'Some of his old clients would come to his house.' He kept his own barber's chair on the second floor of his house, Gourley said.

Growing up, Brown often heard her neighbor playing polka music on his organ.

'He had a lot of interests and he was very interesting to talk to,' Brown said. 'I lived here with my daughters and he always had time to talk to everybody about gardening.'

Some neighbors said they heard screams coming from the house before firefighters arrived, Gourley said.

Brown said her sister was home at the time but did not know the home next door was on fire.

'(Firefighters) asked if he was a smoker,' Brown said. 'But because he was so health conscious it's questionable about how his house could've started on fire.'

Erik Siemers can be reached at esiemers@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7997.

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