By Beth Treffeisen
Walking down Cocoanut Grove Lane, Steve Dunwell a resident of Bay Village looks up from a floor plan map and points to the left stating, “We are now standing on the dance floor or what was the dance floor,” referring to the night club that once stood there before burning to the ground on November 28, 1942.
“Part of the problem is it was a terrible design,” said Dunwell standing in front of what once used to be the bar. “They had this underground room with only one stairway going down.”
Now, almost 75 years later the memories of the 492 people who lost their lives in the devastating fire are engraved on a plaque whose location remains a controversy between the survivors and the local Bay Village Neighborhood Association.
The plaque that is owned by the Bay Village Neighborhood Association was originally placed at 17 Piedmont Street in 1993 the site of the revolving door where 40 people perished but was removed during the construction of the Piedmont Condominiums and was put back in the sidewalk after completion of the construction.
However, a decision to move it by the association came in May of this year when residents showed a concern about visitors possibly having to congregate in front of the luxury condominiums that now occupy the site.
The plaque was moved 10 to 15 feet down the street adjacent to the Revere Hotel parking garage.
“We as a neighborhood made the right decision,” said Sarah Herlihy the president of the Bay Village Association at the monthly executive meeting this past Monday. “Both for the safety and for preserving the history for people who want to see this.”
Herlihy stated that before they moved the plaque that was paid for by the Bay Village Neighborhood Association she reached out to the informal Cocoanut Group Memorial Association and the daughter of the late Tony Marra, survivor and creator of the plaque, Dorothy Doucette, receiving no response.
“I live on Piedmont Street and two to three times a week I notice tour groups go by,” said Brian Boisvert at the executive meeting. “It is much more logical place where it now is – as opposed to people looking into somebody’s bedroom.”
James McCormick, a resident of Bay Village, had noticed a tribute vase with letters to those lost at the site and said, “It’s moved to a better place where you can really take the time to think about the people,” stating that beforehand there was really no room to do so.
With a desolate backdrop to the plaque’s new location there is now talk from both residents as well as Mayor Marty Walsh to create a larger memorial in the works.
“We can do a memorial because that corner needs beautification there or a reflection spot,” said Ben Beck a resident of Bay Village. “The parking garage is ugly – anything would improve that spot.”
As of now, the Bay Village Association will restore the plaque after being held in storage at Boston City Hall during the construction of the Piedmont Square Condominiums. The association voted unanimously to pay $375 plus tax to clean and put a protective coating on the plaque.
After gaining support of the association to spend money Herlihy joked, “We never had to pay for it the 20 some-what years we’ve had this plaque.”