Beverly Hills property begins new construction

Beverly Hills property begins new construction

Madison Mulcahy, Staff Writer

The Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire

According to an article written by Robert Webster, the building had exquisite decorations and top-notch service. It was quite popular, and events were held there almost every night. But a tragedy that will never be forgotten brought the club’s exhilarating nights to an end. On May 28, 1977, The Beverly Hills Supper Club tragically burned to ashes. It was the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

The Beverly Hills Supper Club was built in the early 1930’s by a man named Peter Schmidt. According to older locals who were involved in the gambling and entertainment back then, the mob wanted to buy the club. Schmidt refused and not long after, on February 3, 1936, the building was burned down, supposedly by the mob. The property caretaker’s young niece was in the building when it caught on fire, and, sadly, was killed. Schmidt rebuilt, but eventually sold the club because of ongoing pressure.

Later, in the early 1960’s, gambling was put to an end by the authorities. The club shut down in 1961 and was empty for eight years but was briefly reopened on October 11, 1969. That didn’t last long. It closed again and was deeded to the Schilling family. They planned to renovate and open the club back up, more successfully than the previous owners had. In 1970, another fire destroyed a lot of the building while it was still under construction. The Schillings didn’t let this discourage them and kept working towards their goal. They reopened on February 10, 1971. It had very fine dining and first-class entertainment. According to the article, “Our Rich History: 40 years ago, the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire became Kentucky’s greatest tragedy” by Robert Webster, it was much more luxurious than the other venues of its time.

May 28, 1977, was a very busy day at the Beverly Hills Supper Club. There was a wedding and retirement parties. It was also the Memorial Day weekend, so more people than usual were there that evening. In the Cabaret Room alone, there were about 1,300 guests when the normal capacity was a maximum of 755. It was so crowded that they had to block off the exits to make more room for everyone, which of course, was against the safety regulations. This would later make it impossible for dozens of people to escape the burning building. Mrs. Sally Brewer, a sixth grade english teacher, recalls being in the Cabaret Room for her older sister’s dance recital just a few weeks before the incident. She said her mother had been shocked at how crowded the theatre was and asked Brewer’s older sister, “What she would ever do if there was a fire.” Many people in that very same room would be trying to answer that question themselves.

Not too far from the Cabaret Room, the Zebra Room was holding a wedding reception. As it was ending, guests began to complain about the temperature in the room, and it was thought that air conditioning was broken. At about 8:50P.M., a reservations clerk smelled smoke coming from the Zebra Room and went to investigate, making the devastating discovery of the fire. A bartender ran to the room with a fire extinguisher in hand and told a waitress to call the fire department and get everyone out.

As all of this was happening, Walter Bailey, an 18-year-old busboy, ran onto the Cabaret Room stage and interrupted the show to calmly inform everyone of the situation and get them out of the building. Most of the people laughed at the young boy and assumed it was part of the act. Only about 400 people listened and left immediately. The fire broke loose and began to spread rapidly. Employees had to open two emergency exit doors because the largest exit in the Cabaret Room was blocked off. The guests were able to make their way out of the room, but once in the hallway, they were faced with deadly smoke. Many collapsed right there in the hallway, others were locked in closets thinking they had found an exit. People were trampled and shoved aside by the crowd. People were stacked on top of each other in an attempt climb out through the packed doorway. Others were jumping across tables to get to any of the three small exits. Most of those who were not able to make it out were stuck in the doorway and piled on top of each other.

There was so much think smoke coming from the fire that onlookers could see it from miles away.  Mr. Kevin Nieporte, a seven grade social studies teacher, said, “I was at home at my parents’ house, which is actually very close to Beverly Hills Supper Club. I do remember standing on my front porch gazing at the black smoke above.” After the tragic incident, bodies were taken to the armory and lined along the floor to be identified. Tragically, 169 people perished in the fire that night. The cause was said to be faulty electric wiring. That night will be a tragic and heart-wrenching memory for those who lost someone in that fire. Even those who weren’t there to experience it, feel the pain of those who did. Mrs. Angela Cochran, an eighth grade math teacher, said, “Even though it had been several years, I could still feel and hear the sadness in their voices.”

Fast forward to November of 2020. After all these year, the land where Beverly Hills once stood is seeing some activity. Ashley Builders Group, a land developer, settled a lawsuit with an agreement to allow building on some of the property.  The plan is to build a community on the land. However, there will also be a memorial fountain to be built where the Cabaret Room once was, in honor of the 169 people who died that fateful night. The 80-acre site will be donated to the Southgate community once the project is completed, which will leave a park and green space, along with the fountain. Mr. Jim Hamberg, Mayor of Southgate, said, “This will be a development for single adults, families, and elderly. Together, this purchase will finally bring to bear a living and lasting tribute to the victims, families and first responders whose lives were forever changed by the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire while providing a positive development for our fine city.” While that night and the tragedies that came with it will never be forgotten, the city is ready to move forward with the Memorial.