Fine Books & Manuscripts
(Boston, Cocoanut Fire), City of Boston License to be a Common Victualler issued to New Cocoanut Grove Inc., issued the first day of January, 1937, until December 31, 1937, listing Benjamin Welansky as President, with the address of "17 Piedmont Street and rear entrance from Shawmut Street, for stock only, first floor," numbered 934, one page, (with folds, edge chipping and light charring to edges),sold together with fragments of other licenses, including a "Permit to Sell, Expose for Sale or Deliver Ice Cream and/or Sherbet," numbered 1863, issued by the City of Boston Health Department on May 3, 1940, through April 30, 1941, and the fragment of another numbered 430, and issued on April 22, 1941, with two very small fragments, one from the Bureau of Milk Inspection, (all with smoke staining and edge chipping).
Note: On November 28th, 1942, The Cocoanut Grove, one of Boston's most popular nightclubs, had somewhere close to 1000 people enjoying its exotic "Casablanca"-style decor, and live music, (although the facility's official capacity was half that). Formerly a city speak easy, the club had grown in size over the years, incorporating sections of real estate along Piedmont and Church streets, with dark corners, and a cozy back bar for secluded assignations. When fire broke out in that bar area, the fate of 492 souls was sealed within a matter of moments. Due to the nature of the building--including obscured or locked exits, lack of exit signage, low lighting, and narrow passageways--the fire, heat, and fumes overtook patrons with hideous speed.
Benjamin "Barney" Welansky, the club's owner, who claimed organized crime connections, and had friendships with several crooked city officials during a time when Boston politics was rife with graft, had kept the club operating despite numerous safety violations. After the horrific fire, Welansky was convicted on nineteen counts of manslaughter, and sentenced to twelve to fifteen years in prison.
This tragedy is one that will never be forgotten by the City of Boston, and, by extension, the rest of the United States. Because of this disaster, new fire laws were put into place that exist and protect us to this day, including the use of non-flammable materials, sprinklers, proper exit signage and emergency lighting, and standardized, functioning doors. All these things we now take for granted, but would have saved hundreds lives the night of November 28, 1942.