Arson suspected in Oak Park gay nightclub fire

June 4, 2012 (OAK PARK, Ill.)

The fire broke out around 6 a.m. Sunday at Velvet Rope Ultra Lounge, located at 728 Lake Street near Oak Park Avenue. The blaze was put out within minutes, but the interior of the building sustained significant damage.

Owner Frank Elliott says the venue is a total loss. He plans on reopening in a couple months.

Elliott says he found derogatory messages scrawled on a wall inside the burned-out club.

"We don't really know what they are. They've been removed by the detectives," Elliott said.

Elliott said he is heartbroken over the charred seats, burned walls and shattered glass inside his martini bar.

"I didn't sleep at all last night. I mean, this is my life on the line. Everything I have done my entire life is now behind plywood," he said.

The business has been in downtown Oak Park for three years. Police are calling the fire suspicious but have not ruled it a hate crime.

"Why did they choose me? What did I do? I've been providing a service to all of the patrons, and it doesn't matter if you're gay, you're straight, you're young, you're old, anything, you come in and have a good time. I mean, we're like one big family," Elliott said.

Businesses on either side of the club also sustained smoke and water damage. Flat Top Grill had close for business but handed out coupons to customers. Gepetto's Toy Box hopes to reopen by the end of the week.

"One thing that we're really fortunate with is that we've got such a great community and we've got a great customer base and this community always supports its retailers," said Eric Masoncup, owner, Gepetto's Toy Box.

Customer Cordelia Ferrera hoped to buy a toy with her allowance Monday.

"This is our first day off school so she wanted to come over and buy something with her own money at the toy store," said Tory Ferrera, mother.

In a suburb known to embrace diversity, some residents were upset over the possible nature of the blaze.

"It's a diverse community. a lot of different ethnicities here, a lot of different types of people here, a lot of things going on in Oak Park all the time. So for something like this to happen, I am very surprised and shocked and hurt," said resident Lydia Rogers-Smith.

"It's upsetting. It particularly surprises me that something like this would happen in Oak Park," said resident Andrea Despotes.

Elliott says the club did have surveillance cameras, but he took them out to move them to the new club he plans to open in two weeks in Lakeview.

Oak Park police and fire departments are investigating as is the state fire marshall, which is standard when a fire is suspicious.

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