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The Beverly Hills Supper Club: After 35 years, photos faded, not memories
Jessica Noll, WCPO Digital
6:35 PM, May 26, 2012
11:02 PM, May 26, 2012
SOUTHGATE, Ky - The lavish club sat high on the hill overlooking Campbell County. It was a time of powerful men with big money, beautiful cabaret dancers and fine dining available anytime day or night with a side of gambling. The plush dining rooms and private banquets brought in top musical and comedian acts on a nightly basis. It was the place to be in Northern Kentucky.
Ray Howcroft remembers the era well. He was the maître'd at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky. His job every night was to make sure that his guests had the best seats in the house, but on this night, the best seat would be outside.
"We were busy, John Davidson was there. The house had a lot of reservations and everything was going along fine," said Howcroft, remembering the next sequence of events as they rapidly unfolded, unbelievably, in front of his eyes. "Rick Schilling ran by me real quick about 9 o'clock, I don't remember the exact time anymore, and said 'Where's the fire extinguisher.'"
"He said get everybody out of the dining room—get them out through the kitchen."
Howcroft thought only one thing. "I had a son working back in the Garden Room where the fire started, so my first instinct was 'Where's my son?'"
Thirty five years later, his memories are as vivid as the night tragedy and fire broke out at The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky.
"There were bodies stacked up about that high inside the cabaret door, and inside there, at the right side table there was just two people still sitting there. We pulled a couple of people out."
It was May 28, 1977.
The then-53-year-old maître'd, was in charge of getting folks the best seats in the house.
That night, however, proved that the best seat were not closest to the stage, but rather to the door.
"A couple of good friends, being maître'd, I got them front row seats--they didn't make it," said Howcroft, hanging his head down, shaking it.
He and his son made it out OK. His daughter, who was studying to be a nurse, came to the club searching for her father who was wearing his work shoes—black work shoes. She walked through the courtyard, peeking under each white sheet with black shoes sticking out from underneath of them. She was looking for her father's body, but was relieved to find him directing traffic at the bottom of the hill.
Manager Wayne Dammert walked into where the Zebra Room once stood—it's where he was 35 years ago, when the fire started.
"Fire started right about here. It blasted in that room and flashed over everything in the room caught on fire," said Dammert, standing in what is now an overgrown wooded area, that now memorializes the once-hopping club with photos and signs showing where the rooms were, the garden, and where people perished.
"All these pieces... they're all parts to these chairs," he said holding up a piece of one of the left behind chairs from the dining room. Then he tossed it to the ground. As it hit the ground, it made contact with other pieces of miscellaneous metal, carcass, from the destroyed Beverly Hills Supper Club—making a loud clinking noise.
At one time, the rooms these chairs sat in were plush and colorful, bringing celebrities and gangsters.
But rusty chairs and memories that won't die are all that remain. Those memories were given new life Saturday afternoon, as former employees and family members of the 165 who died, and 200 who were injured in the fire, came together to remember their loved ones, in a memorial, recalling stories that they had lived through.
They shared their stories and their family's stories and collected condolences and understanding from others who shared in their grief.
They made their way up the long driveway to look at where the club that perished once stood in all its glory.
Survivors consider themselves fortunate to reminisce about a time that put Northern Kentucky on the map.
"I made it through a war, and a big fire, yeah, I consider myself a very lucky person," said Howcroft with a smile beaming across his now-87-old-old face.
After the fire, investigators found that the building did not have enough fire exits, faulty wiring and no sprinkler system, however, according to Howcroft, the building was grandfathered in when sprinklers were not required. There is a lot of speculation surrounding the cause of the fire.