31 years ago on March 25th, 1990
The Happy Land nightclub fire kills 87 in West Farms in the Bronx, becoming the city's deadliest fire since the Triangle Shirtwaist fire
Arson was found to be the cause, when a man set a gasoline fire outside the club's only exit, ostensibly targeting his former girlfriend, who worked at the club. Hauntingly, the fire occurred 79 years to the day after the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, which was the city's deadliest fire.
The Happy Land club was a gathering place for the Garifuna community in the South Bronx, situated in a small property along Southern Boulevard at East Tremont Avenue. Tragically, the club was operating illegally after being ordered closed due to lack of sprinklers and fire exits. Had these modifications been in place, the subsequent act of arson could have become a mere inconvenience and not a horrific murder scene.
In his anger at being rejected by his girlfriend, Julio Gonzalez returned to the club around 3am, splashed gasoline along the club's only exit, lit the fire, and closed the metal security gate. Noxious gases quickly filled the club and killed 87 people. Gonzalez was convicted of 174 counts of murder. In a twist of fate, the former girlfriend that Gonzalez was targeting was one of the survivors of the fire.
Today, the former Happy Land property is the site of a tax preparation office. A commemorative memorial has been placed in a park across the street, and a mural decorates the block where the fire took place.