Two horrific NYC fires share anniversary today
March 25 has been an ominous date in New York City history - it marks the anniversary of two of the deadliest and most horrific fires the city has ever known: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Manhattan that killed 148 factory workers, and the 1990 Happy Land social club fire in the Bronx, which killed 87 people.
The notorious fires share other eerie similarities: in both cases the majority of the victims were under 25 years old and were immigrant workers. And in both cases the victims perished because the buildings were unsafe and had blocked exits or locked doors.
The Shirtwaist factory was a typical sweatshop of the industrial era, and was housed on the top floors of the 10-story Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place on Washington Square. When flames engulfed the upper floors of the building, many of the women workers - mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants - were unable to escape. Fire truck ladders reached to only the sixth floor at that time and the fire was on floors 8 -10. Doors on the ninth floor were locked and the fire escape was flimsy and balked under the weight of so many people desperate to escape.
The blaze sparked major reforms in labor safety laws.
The Happy Land arson blaze ignited in an illegal after hours social club that two years before the deadly1990 fire had gotten building violations for lacking fire exits, fire alarms and sprinkler system.
The blaze was set by Julio Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant, whose ex-girlfriend worked at the club. After an argument with her, he left the club, returned with gasoline and doused the stairs to the second floor club, which was packed with Honduran immigrants celebrating Carnival.
Fire exits had been locked to prevent people from sneaking in without paying the cover and it was a disaster for the club-goers inside.
Gonzalez was arrested and charged with murder and arson. He is still in jail. CBS2 has extensive archival footage of its coverage from the fire online HERE.
-- Lauren Johnston