Don't Panic: The Psychology of Emergency Egress and Ingress

By Jerome M. Chertkoff; Russell H. Kushigian | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire, November 28, 1942

The Cocoanut Grove Night Club originally opened on October 27, 1927, in an abandoned building of concrete and stucco in Boston, Massachusetts. The building, used previously as a garage and as a film exchange depot for Paramount Pictures, was remodeled into a night club with a distinctive decor. The interior, designed by noted night club architect Reuben Bodenhorn, simulated a tropical paradise. Dominating the interior were a number of large imitation coconut palm trees, with silver-tipped fronds.

The club did well at first. However, in the era of Prohibition, the Cocoanut Grove, unlike many of its competitors, refused to break the law and sell alcoholic drinks. Business declined.

In 1930, the Cocoanut Grove was sold to Charles "King" Solomon, a notorious bootlegger and racketeer. Solomon instituted changes. Liquor was served illegally, and high-priced performers of national stature appeared frequently. The Cocoanut Grove became the leading night club in Boston, a place frequented by the rich and famous.

On January 24, 1933, "King" Solomon was gunned down in the men's room of a nearby speak-easy called the Cotton Club. Shortly thereafter, Barnet Welansky, Solomon's attorney, acquired control of the Cocoanut Grove from Solomon's widow.

Prohibition was repealed in December 1933. Liquor was now served legally at the Cocoanut Grove. However, the Depression seriously hurt the night club business, and by 1935, Welansky was ready to sell the club. No one wanted to buy it. Welansky decided to keep the club open and to revitalize it. He refurbished the interior, upgraded the quality of the staff, and instituted a policy of booking promising local talent to entertain the patrons. The Cocoanut Grove prospered once more.

By 1938, business was so good that Welansky decided to expand. He bought the small building attached to the west side of the club and incorporated it into the Cocoanut Grove. The basement of the attached building was converted into a

-33-

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