Contributed by Stephanie Lange
The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Southgate, Kentucky, occurred May 28, 1977, during Memorial Day weekend. A total of 165 people died and over 200 were injured as a result of the blaze. It is the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. Ten miles outside Cincinnati, the Beverly Hills Club was a major attraction that drew talent from Las Vegas, Nashville, Hollywood and New York, among other places. A popular nightspot and illegal gambling house as early as 1926; Dean Martin, an Ohio native, was even a blackjack dealer there. It was considered an elegant, upscale venue attracting talent and high-class patrons.
Though the building’s frame and ceiling tiles were classified non-combustible; wooden building materials were substantially used in construction, including floor joints for the two-story portion and framing on interior hallways.It was decorated with highly-flammable carpeting and wood wall paneling. The building did not have a fire suppression sprinkler system installed, as it was not required at the time. It also lacked an alarm system and smoke detectors. The majority of egress paths in each event room led not to the outside of the building, but to a variety of service spaces and narrow interior halls.
The investigation into the fire pointed to several main contributing factors:
Overcrowding. Seating charts recovered after the fire show that the largest part of the club, the Cabaret Room, normally held between 614 and 756 people. A hostess who had worked at the club for several years estimated occupancy on the date in question to be well over 925.
Inadequate fire exits and extreme safety code violations. There was no sprinkler system and no audible automatic fire alarm. Full occupancy of the entire complex was estimated to be roughly 2,750, which under Kentucky law would require 27.5 exits. The club only had 16.5 exits and many were not clearly marked nor readily accessible. Some exits could only be reached by passing through three or more interior doors and corridors. Many victims perished after becoming lost.
Faulty wiring and poor construction practices. The club had been built piecemeal with inadequate roof support, no common ceiling space, and highly flammable components. The Governor’s report after the fire called the club’s wiring a “nightmare”, alleging multiple, wide ranging code violations.