Fire damages gay nightclub in Oak Park; ‘crime scene’ roped off
Police investigate the scene of a fire in Oak Park at the Velevet Rope on Sunday, June 2. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 5, 2012 5:23PM
Oak Park fire and police crews were sifting through the burnt-out remains Sunday after an early-morning fire destroyed a gay nightclub in Oak Park.
The fire gutted the interior of the Velvet Rope Lounge, 728 Lake St., about 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
Oak Park’s police watch commander, Sgt. Anthony Thomas, said Sunday afternoon that fire investigators on scene had not conferred with police officials yet on their preliminary findings. He expected a preliminary report to be made by Monday morning.
But minutes after the fire was extinguished Sunday morning at 6:55 a.m., Oak Park police were called to the scene for an arson investigation and to rope off the building “as a crime scene.”
Ten minutes later the Fire Department requested that a staff member from the village health department be sent to the fire scene.
A police evidence-technician truck was parked outside the fire scene, and several police investigators and other unidentified personnel spent the next seven hours examining the fire scene and gathering evidence. That process concluded at 2 p.m., at which time the sidewalk was reopened to pedestrians.
Firefighters were called to the 700 block of Lake Street at 6:24 a.m. on the report of a fire at the rear of the Red Hen Bakery at the corner of Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue.
When firefighters arrived at 6:26 a.m. they reported “nothing showing” at the bakery, but 2 minutes later reported the smell of smoke from the rear of the lounge. Two minutes later the officer reported seeing smoke.
At 6:36 a.m. a firefighter reported “something on fire on the roof at 728 Lake.”
Emergency workers forced entry to the building as attempts were made to contact the owners of four businesses on either side of 728 Lake.
On Sunday afternoon the plate glass window lay in shards on the sidewalk in front of the nightclub. The interior visible from the street appeared charred or covered in black soot.
The fire visibly had not reached the front of the restaurant, as several cloth items at the front of the lounge and velvet curtains hung near the broken-out windows had not burned.
Velvet Rope owner Frank Elliott had arrived on scene at 6:55 a.m. as the fire was extinguished. Sunday afternoon he said he still knew few details of the fire, except that heavy smoke and the need for firefighters to open walls and lay water down had heavily damaged his business.
Elliott, an Oak Park resident who said he’s owned the lounge about three years, said the business was open last night.
“We closed last night as normal at 2 a.m.,” he said, adding that less than five hours later he was awakened by a call from the Fire Department that his business was burning.
Elliott said the damage appears to be extensive.
“From the looks of it, it’s pretty much everything,” he said. “Smoke damage, holes in the wall.”
Danny Williamson, the regional manager for Flat Top Grill, just east of the Velvet Rope, said his restaurant suffered smoke and structural damage from the fire and firefighting efforts.
“We’ll be closed for a while,” he said, adding that he hoped to reopen “no later than the end of the week.”
About 1 p.m. Sunday, onlookers — many heading to Oak Park’s summer festival A Day in Our Village — were kept at a distant. Pedestrian traffic was diverted into westbound lanes of Lake Street.
Neighboring business Geppetto’s Toy Store also sustained damage.
Eric Masoncup, owner of Geppetto’s, said his business will be closed at least through Sunday.
“We got smoke damage in the store and some water in the basement. We’ve got a recovery team determining the extent of the damage,” Masoncup said.
The fire investigation continued as of Sunday evening.