Bronxites remember devastating Happy Land tragedy

Former CB 6 district manager Ivine Galarza (c) and Fr. John Obniski (r) from St. Thomas Aquinas Church joined families in remembering the many lives lost 27 years ago.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

Relatives and friends joined Community Board 6 on Saturday, March 25 to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Happy Land Social Club Fire, a devastating inferno which tore through an illegal two-story night club a 1959 Southern Boulevard and claimed the lives of 87 party goers.

The fire was caused by Julio Gonzalez who poured gasoline through the club’s only entrance and stairwell before igniting the combustible after getting into an allocation with his ex-girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a Happy Land employee.

Feliciano was one of five survivors of the tragedy.

Gonzalez was arrested the next day and in September 1991 he was sentenced to 174 twenty-five year sentences, a total of 4,350 years.

Gonzalez, 61, died of a heart attack last September at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

The somber ceremony began with an evening Mass dedicated to the victims at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

Following the service, a procession traveled to the Plaza of the Eight-Seven, a memorial honoring the 87 victims located just across the street from the former night club for a rosary and candlelight vigil.

Flowers, wreaths and mementos were laid at the base of the obelisk-like monument and the names of the deceased were read aloud.

Karen Lam lit candles in memory of the 87 victims and their families.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

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