Still Mourning, 24 Years Later

Still Mourning, 24 Years Later
Posted by Steven Trader

By Steven Trader

Some community members refer to it as the September 11th of the South Bronx.

In the early morning of March 25, 1990, Julio Gonzalez got into a fight with his girlfriend at the Happy Land Social Club. His girlfriend worked in the coat check room, and Gonzalez was thrown out by the bouncer. He walked up the street to the nearest gas station and bought a dollars worth of gasoline.

When Gonzalez returned to the club the main floor was empty, everyone was upstairs enjoying the party. He doused the staircase that led to the only exit in the building, and he lit a match.

What resulted was one of the worst arson fire tragedies in New York City history.

Twenty-four years later, families of the victims gathered to mourn the tragedy. A service was held at the Saint Thomas Aquinas church, and afterwards firefighters led a procession a block down the street to a memorial statue built across from the old Happy Land building. Mourners filed in and out. Somes laid down wreaths or photos of their lost loved ones, and many held candles as they stood reciting prayers in unison.


Additional reporting by Ross Keith, Jenna O’Donnel. Photos by Jenna O’Donnel