MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Montgomery Fire-Rescue and the Department of Public Safety hosted a small ceremony Tuesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Dale's Penthouse Restaurant fire that claimed the lives of 25.
Back in the mid-60s, Dale's Penthouse was easily one of Montgomery's fanciest restaurants. On that Tuesday night in 1967, there were between 75 and 100 people on the top floor of the then Walter Bragg Smith Apartment building.
Investigators believe the fire started in the restaurant's coat room and the victims couldn't make it to the stairwell or elevator to escape the spreading inferno.
(A photo of the penthouse blaze from Feb. 7, 1967. Source: SAFE Montgomery)
Anne Pepper-Spooner lost her parents in the blaze. Her dad was well known Alabama politician Ed Pepper. She was babysitting her younger siblings that night.
"Strong family commitment to each other, strong work ethic," Pepper-Spooner said. "That's what got us through it and you make a choice every day when you get up. Is this going to be a bad day or a good day? At 15, I decided what kind of life am I going to have and I wanted the family to be proud."
There were several stories of heroes and survivors that night as well.
"I lost some good friends in there, some co-workers and all that. It just was a sad night," said Jesse Williams.
Williams was a cook at the restaurant. He helped save several people by transporting them in the building's elevator. But when he went back to rescue more, he got trapped inside the elevator. Williams, along with a handful of firefighters, had to climb out of the elevator and then climb down the steel cable 10 floors to the basement.
"Thank God I'm here and every time it comes around to me, I think about some of the friends I lost in there and I was the lucky one," recalls Williams.
Another survivor was Rosanne Lincoln who also vividly remembers that fateful evening.
She says she and her husband, along with a visitor from South Africa, were eating at the restaurant when their waiter came to the table to tell them the restaurant was on fire. She says they had to climb out onto the ledge of the building and wait to be rescued.
Lincoln says she lost a shoe and a jacket and had a few cuts. She says she kept her other shoe she was wearing that night and still has it.
"My husband told me [to keep it], he gave it to me. He said 'now you take this and put it away and if things ever look really rough, you get this out and think about what happened,'" explains Lincoln.
The fire prompted the city of Montgomery to tighten its building inspections and fire codes.
Tuesday's event was held in the parking lot next to Seven Clayton Street which is now the Capitol Towers Apartments.