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Codes and Standards

  • Linney  F.  Inspection: Cocoanut Grove, Piedmont Street.  Boston: Boston Fire Department, November 30, 1942.  Courtesy of Boston Public LibraryFULL TEXT
  • Building exits code. Boston: National Fire Protection Association, 1942. FULL TEXT
  • Reilly WA. Annual report of the Fire Department for the year 1942. : Boston: Boston Fire Department, 1943: 6-9. Courtesy of City of Boston ArchivesFULL TEXT
The Cocoanut Grove was issued a restaurant license by the Boston Licensing Board in 1942, with a capacity of 100 tables, 400 chairs, and 30 fixed stools.  It occupied approximately 10,250 sq ft. The application on file in the Licensing Board office showed entrances and exits of the Grove at 17 Piedmont St, 59-65 Broadway, and second, third floors and basement of 6 and 8 Shawmut Street for stock.

Since it was licensed as a restaurant, it was not subject to laws affecting theaters and dance halls.

There was new construction to the night club in 1942 to build out the Broadway Lounge. In inspecting the premises, the Building Commissioner found that the only error was the absence of a steel fire door between the new Broadway Lounge and the Main Dining Room. The door had been ordered but not delivered. The new lounge was opened without the required certificate of inspection

Eight days before the fire, the Boston Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau inspected the building. The reported noted that the club had sufficient exits and fire extinguishers. When tested with a match, none of the decorations ignited. The report stated “no flammable decorations” and concluded that the condition of the club was “good.”

Denials started just days after the fire, when investigations were on-going.

On December 1, 1942, the Licensing Board officials said they were only concerned with the liquor laws. They said they had no authority to deal with decorations of an inflammable nature, but they could order out decorations dangerous to the morals of patrons.

Police officials said they were concerned with enforcement of the liquor laws.

Building Commissioner James Moody said that he had no power to compel the use of fireproof draperies or decorations and could not compel the Cocoanut Grove to install fire sprinklers. “The Cocoanut Grove does not come under the heading of ‘places of public assembly and hence it was not subject to regulations that affect lodging houses and theaters.”

A new Building Exits Code (the predecessor to today’s Life Safety Code) had been approved in by NFPA in February 1942, but the code had not adopted by the City of Boston. In it were the principles of safety that, had they been followed, would have prevented many deaths:

·         Exits available in reasonable travel distance

·         At least two ways out remote from each other—additional exits according to the number of persons and relative fire danger

·         Exit paths marked, unobstructed, well lighted

·         Plan views of favored types of emergency exits

·         Evacuation drills well planned, frequently practiced

In addition, the Building Exits Code said of revolving doors: “Revolving doors shall not be used on required exits except that approved collapsible revolving doors may be used between street floor (but not at foot of stairs) and street where specifically permitted by occupancy sections.”

William A. Reilly, in his Report Concerning the Cocoanut Grove Fire, made the following recommended legislation:

1.       Installation of automatic sprinklers in any room occupied as a restaurant, night club, or place of entertainment.

2.       Prohibition of the use of basement rooms as places of assembly, unless provision is made for at least two direct means of access to the street with installation of metal-covered automatic closing fire doors being required in any passage existing between basement room and first floor.

3.       Requirement of defined aisle space between tables in restaurants, such tables to be firmly affixed to the floor to prevent upsetting and obstruction of means of egress.

4.       Exit doors in places of assembly to have so-called panic locks an no others.  Such exits to be marked by illuminated “EXIT” signs with the minimum candle power to be specified in the law, and supplied by an electrical system.  Such system might also be permitted to serve a few recessed or box-type fixtures, for emergency use as guide lights in the event of failure of the main lighting system

5.       Absolute prohibition in any place of assembly of the use of any suspended cloth false ceiling.

6.       Window openings of sufficient area, equipped with louvers secured by a fusible link so as to open automatically when subjected to heat, for the purpose of drawing flames or gases, should be required in basement rooms used as places of assembly.

A new City of Boston Building Code, drafted in 1937, adopted in May 1943; it was not retroactive and had jurisdiction only over new construction.

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