Friday evening, January 28, 1966 was one of those bone chilling nights that we get once or twice every winter in Boston. This evening the temperature was in the low teens and the wind was blowing over 40 miles an hour. In some firehouses around Boston, dinner was finished, in others, firefighters still waited to eat. In all of them, the jakes hoped for a quite night. It was simply too cold to face the elements. In 1966, Boston firefighters worked two night tours in a row. Because of the work group schedule, some members would be off the following night and others would be back for the Saturday night tour. This wouId be a night tour that the Boston Fire Department would long remember.
At about 1838 hours, a third floor resident and part-time handyman for the Paramount Hotel, Herb McBride, detected an odor of natural gas in the stairway going down to the first floor. He brought this to the attention of the desk clerk, Mr. Ronald Coyne and Mr. Joseph Elliot, the elevator operator. The desk clerk advised them to notify the manager of Leonardi's bar, which was adjacent to the hotel lobby. Mr. McBride headed that way. Mr. Coyne, the desk clerk then started toward the rear stairs and reached the first landing where the odor was very intense. Aware that something was wrong, he started to retrace his steps to the desk to notify the Boston Gas Company. Before he could reach the desk, the explosion occurred and he found himself in the cellar, as did the elevator operator. Mr. McBride was directly on the sidewalk in front of Leonardi's Bar at that moment.
This area of downtown was known as "the combat zone" because of all the cafes, bars and adult entertainment available. A Friday night would bring out a larger crowd than other nights.
This complex contained several connected buildings:
- the Paramount Hotel was an 11 story, first class building
- the Plymouth Hotel, an 8 story building with smaller buildings connected
- 21 Boylston St., Chartells Coffee Shop
- 19 Boylston St., Leonardi's Caf