Monday, September 20, 2010

Remembering Tragedy after 20 years - Happy Land Social Club

Special Thanks to DJ B.BARNES for sharing this story with me.....life is short...live each day to the fullest!
The Happy Land fire was an arson fire which killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club called "Happy Land" (at 1959 Southern Boulevard) in the West Farms section of The Bronx, New York, on March 25, 1990. Most of the victims were ethnic Hondurans celebrating Carnival. Unemployed Cuban refugee Julio González, whose former girlfriend was employed at the club, was arrested shortly after and ultimately convicted of arson and murder.

The Incident

Before the blaze, Happy Land was ordered closed for building code violations in November 1988. Violations included no fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. No follow-up by the fire department was documented.

That evening González had argued with his former girlfriend Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She claimed that she had had enough of him and wanted nothing to do with him anymore. González tried to fight back and was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Julio was enraged, not just because of Lydia, but since he had recently lost his job at a lamp factory, was impoverished, and had virtually no companions. He returned to the establishment with a plastic container of gasoline which he found on the ground and took to a gas station to fill, which he spread on the only staircase into the club. Two matches were then used to ignite the gasoline.

The fire exits had been blocked to prevent people from entering without paying the cover charge. In the panic that ensued, a few people escaped by breaking a metal gate over one door.

González then returned home, took off his gasoline-soaked clothes and fell asleep. He was arrested the following afternoon after authorities interviewed Feliciano and learned of the previous night's argument. Once advised of his rights, he admitted to starting the blaze. A psychological examination found him to be not responsible due to mental illness or defect; the jury, after deliberation, found him to be criminally responsible sane.


Found guilty on August 19, 1991, of 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder, González was sentenced to 174 twenty-five year sentences, to be served consecutively (a total of 4,350 years) . It was the most substantial prison term ever imposed in the state of New York. He will be eligible for parole in March 2015.

The building that housed Happy Land was managed in part by Jay Weiss, at the time the husband of actress Kathleen Turner.  The New Yorker quoted Turner saying, "the fire was unfortunate but could have happened at a McDonald's." The building's owner, Alex DiLorenzo 3d, and leaseholders Weiss and Morris Jaffe were found not criminally responsible, since they had tried to close the club and evict the tenant.

The street outside the former Happy Land social club (which was located on the northwest corner of Southern Boulevard and East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx) has been renamed "The Plaza of the Eighty-Seven" as a means of memorializing the victims. Five of the victims were students at nearby Theodore Roosevelt High School, which held a memorial service for the victims in April 1990.

The event was the subject of the Duran Duran song, "Sin of the City" (where the song lyrics say 89 people died, when in fact it was 87), a Joe Jackson song, "Happyland", and Tom Russell's song "A Dollar's Worth of Gasoline" from his Hurricane Season CD. It was also mentioned in the Jay-Z song, "You, Me, Him, and Her". A fictionalized version of the case, where it was an arson intended to intimidate the Latino community, was featured on Law & Order.

Information via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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