Monday, April 9, marked the 40th anniversary of what some called the largest fire to ever occur in Berkley, a fire at Holland Hardware, which occupied 2833 12 Mile Road.

Monday, April 9, marked the 40th anniversary of what some called the largest fire to ever occur in Berkley, a fire at Holland Hardware, which occupied 2833 12 Mile Road.

Photo provided by the Berkley Historical Museum


Huge fire in Berkley happened 40 years ago this month

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published April 10, 2018

 People lined 12 Mile Road to get a glimpse of the fire that blazed through Holland Hardware on the day of April 9, 1978.

People lined 12 Mile Road to get a glimpse of the fire that blazed through Holland Hardware on the day of April 9, 1978.

Photo provided by the Berkley Historical Museum

BERKLEY — A fire can start anywhere and take any size, and just a couple of blocks away from the 12 Mile Road and Coolidge Highway intersection, what some call the largest fire to ever occur in Berkley took place.

This past Monday, April 9, marked the 40th anniversary of the fire at Holland Hardware, which was located in approximately the same spot occupied today by The Neighbor’s Shoppe, 2833 12 Mile Road.

The fire happened on April 9, 1978, and according to Jeffrey Tong, of the Berkley Historical Museum, the flames and smoke could be seen for miles.

Tong said the reputation for it being the biggest fire that Berkley has ever seen came from speaking with firefighters and word-of-mouth.

“They always talked about it for years and years and years,” he said. “That was the one time they had to call fire departments from (all) around. It’s just verbal that it was; they’ve always said it was the biggest fire they’ve ever had.”

According to a newspaper article saved by the Berkley Historical Museum, the fire was reported to authorities by an anonymous caller at 4:20 p.m. Around 30 firefighters and volunteers from Berkley, Huntington Woods and Oak Park came to the scene to fight the fire for more than three hours.

The name “Holland Hardware” came from Walter D. Holland, who purchased the hardware store in 1919 for $1,000. The store stayed in his family until it was sold in 1964 to Irving Rosenberg. He later sold it to a man, Lee Jersec, who bought the store a month before it caught fire.

The damage from the fire, according to the museum’s archives, was $38,600, which didn’t include the store’s inventory.

“What everybody talks about, and I was talking today to two or three other people who remember standing outside … were the loud bangs,” Tong said. “It was just like things exploding for hours, and that was the aerosol cans and the paint thinners and the ammunition of all that kind of stuff, and that’s why it was so dangerous — because all that stuff was exploding.”

David Milner, who has been a Berkley resident since the day he was born in 1939, was at the scene of the fire watching from the 12 Mile Road sidewalk.

“My dad called me and told me there was a fire, and I came down and took my dad up there,” he said.

Milner, who actually worked part-time at Holland’s during the 1960s, said the fire was really going by the time he got there. He said he stayed at the scene for about an hour.

“I’d say at least 100 people, probably more (were at the scene),” he said. “There was people across the street, by the church, and my dad and I were, like, on the same side — of course away from the fire part, but we could (see it).”

“I don’t recall anything in Berkley burning like that,” he said.