HappyLand Social Club Fire
16 years ago today was the HappyLand social Club fire. When I was in college I had to do a paper on this fire, and Coconut Groave. Judging by what happed in RI a couple years ago, I guess not as much has changed as everyone would have liked.
(CBS) The Bronx After working hard all week for modest wages, many Latino immigrants in the East Tremont section of The Bronx would forget their troubles on the crowded dance floor of the Happyland Social Club.
Happyland was located on two floors above a row of stores. It was a tight space with just a single staircase leading in and out. It also was an illegal establishment; ordered closed by the city for building and fire violations. Orders that were ignored by the club's operators.
After midnight on Sunday, March 25, 1990, Happyland was packed with young men and women, most of them new to the U.S. and still calling places like Honduras and Ecuador home.
Just before 3 a.m., according to some who later remembered, a man argued loudly with a woman who worked in the club. He said in Spanish: "I'll be back."
Less than an hour later, Happyland was an inferno. Eighty-seven people died that night, 61 men, 26 women, more than half of them under 25 years of age. Along the walls of the dancefloor, 68 bodies were piled, indicative of their desperate attempts to find a way out from the flames.
The dead were asphyxiated or burned to death within minutes.
Later on that Sunday, police arrested a man they said had set the blaze with gasoline after quarrelling with his girlfriend who worked as a ticket taker.
Julio Gonzalez, an immigrant from Cuba, left the club drunk and walked to a nearby gas station where he bought a gallon of gas. He returned to the club and splashed the staircase and lit the gas.
Investigators said Gonzalez wanted to kill his girlfriend in the fire. She was one of the few who survived.
The fire resulted in a crackdown by the city on the hundreds of illegal social clubs and dance halls believed to be located in all five boroughs.
Gonzalez went to trial later in 1990. After two days of deliberations, a jury found him guilty on all 174 counts - two counts for each victim -of murder. However, New York State law did not allow for a sentence greater than that for a single count of murder: 25 years to life.