22th may 1967 : a fateful day in Brussels

This day marks a sad anniversary in Brussels : On the 22th of May 1967, a big fire broke out at the Innovation Department Store, taking innocents shoppers hostages of a killing fire in the 1901 Horta building.

Batiment_Horta_-_rue_Neuve_-_1901

The store was organised around a big glassroof and stairs, typically the way department store were organised at the time with staircases and big counters. It’s said that there were some 1000 clients trapped inside and there were 323 casualties and 150 injured. The disaster shocked the whole country and everyone remembers where he/she was and what he/she was doing that fateful day. The department store was famous for organizing events of all kind and that time there was an « american week » going on. We’re in a post-WWII, swinging sixties period and all what was american was really trendy and attracted a lot of families, including american citizens living in Brussels at the time.

At Roots Tech this year I met an american man (unfortunately can’t find the little note on which he wrote his name but will be most please to credit him) who was eating in the store restaurant when the fire broke out. This is what he told me when I met him : « When we realized that the store was in fire, we calmly got up and orderly left the building. We were then led to safety where we witnessed the firemen and police fighting against the fire. »  After all those years, he still remembers the moment very well even if panic’s not the first feeling that his memory brings back to us which was a bit surprising for me when we see the photographic sources of the event.

A 1967 Innovation fire survivor and his grandson

( A Innovation fire survivor with his grandson- (c) Marie Cappart)

After the terrible event, things were never be the same for the retail world, safety measures were taken as was the conception of department store in Brussels, moving more and more towards shopping malls located outside of the city and more accessible by car.

The big fire of 1967 will be a event  Brussels will never forget. It was on everybody’s mind when a fire broke out in a Forever 21 store two years ago in the same street than the Innovation.

A TV archive of the event is to see on :

http://www.sonuma.be/archive/incendie-de-l%E2%80%99innovation

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