The second most tragic man-made fire in New York City took place precisely 25 years ago, on the 25th of March, 1990. Today, the Bronx community pays homage to the 87 victims whose lives were taken in the “Happy Land” fire by holding a memorial service on Crotona Parkway in the St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Following the memorial service, a candlelight vigil will be held at a granite memorial near the place of the fire. Tried and convicted 60-year-old suspect Julio Gonzalez is currently serving 25 years to life in prison for 174 counts of murder (2 counts for each victim that passed away) and felony murder. He was recently denied parole.
Local authorities state that Gonzalez had entered the Happy Land dance club on the night of March 25th 1990 and had a very heated argument with his ex-girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano. He was then thrown out of the club and came back after 3 in the morning, pouring gasoline at the only exit of the club and afterwards lighting it on fire with two matches and closing the front gate.
It took only a couple of minutes for all 87 victims to die in the fire, as there was no way to exit the area. Former lover of the suspect, Feliciano, was checking coats at the club at the time of the argument, is one of the 6 people who actually survived. Another survivor was the DJ of the club, Ruben Valladares, who succeeded in exiting the club on time, but with over 50% of his body covered in burns. It is reported that one woman had lost no less than 6 family members in the fire.
At the time, “Happy Land” was a very sough-out place for young individuals in the immigrant community. Even though the club had been detected as not having enough precautions for a possible fire and was ordered to be shut down, it continued its activity illegally.
The “Happy Land” tragedy has proved to be the second deadliest fire in the history of New York City. In 1991, 146 burned to death at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company located in the area we call Greenwich Village today. The fire also took place on the 25th of March, precisely 79 years earlier.
Photo credits: NY Daily News