BY BEN L. KAUFMAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The head of the family that owned Beverly Hills rejects any suggestion he shared responsibility for the area's worst holocaust.
Richard J. Schilling Sr.
''To blame?'' Richard J. Schilling Sr. said by phone from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ''No sir. That was unfair. That was a low shot.
''If I were to blame, I'd be dead. I'd have worried myself to death.''
As for accusations that cost-cutting construction and improperly installed wiring contributed to the disaster, Mr. Schilling said, ''That's not so. It never was so.''
After that, Mr. Schilling hung up, but not before his wife said the past two decades have been a burden. ''It's been hard,'' she said. ''I hate for you to keep redoing it.''
Maintaining a low profile, Mr. Schilling has participated in some of his sons' ventures and has built or remodeled homes in Villa Hills, Ky., and Fort Lauderdale.
''I keep active ... We try to keep active.''
Sons Rick and Ron also live in Fort Lauderdale.
''I'm pretty well retired,'' said Rick (Richard Jr.).
He's refitting an aluminum-hulled, 105-foot, ocean-going yacht for sale and managing his five condos in the Marie Antoinette Apartments where the elder Schillings have the penthouse.
Rick Schilling said he and Ron were hoping to reopen January's, a night spot at Central Avenue and Pete Rose Way, but their plans were pre-empted by recent plans to build the Bengals' practice field there.
''Ç'I can't believe this,' '' Rick Schilling recalled saying when he learned the city's intentions. ''For two years, they told me they weren't going to take it.''
He had spent months lining up a joint venture with a St. Louis firm, which would have operated it. ''I'm too old to run young people's night clubs,'' he said.
Rick Schilling said he is selling his Cleveland Avenue home in Park Hills, but his parents have built a new house in Villa Hills - on Vina Lane.
Ron and Rick do not share their father's aversion to publicity, and have maintained the family's interest in the entertainment industry.
They opened The Islands and Splash on two Ohio River barges in Newport; towed them to Louisville, where they did business for a while; and in 1992, moved to Tunica, Miss., where they were the first casino in that Mississippi River county south of Memphis.
Their Splash Casino & Resort closed in 1995 after disagreements among partners and problems with state regulators and larger, richer competitors - who built more lavish facilities upriver, closer to populous Memphis.
About the same time, their subsidiary, Empire Casino & Resort, failed to win an Indiana gambling license for Schilling Casino Corp. of Fort Wright.
Splash is being refitted in Baton Rouge, La. It will be towed to Natchez, Miss., where Lady Luck is the only other casino.
"We have a super location," Ron Schilling said, and Splash will have an "antebellum facade" to fit into historic Natchez's 19th century architecture.
There is no plan to rename it, he added. "Splash has a great name in Mississippi."
Ron Schilling said an unspecified finance company probably would come in as a partner by the end of May. Once that's set, he will reopen the casino around Labor Day.
He said he would divide his time between Natchez and Fort Lauderdale because he's found his niche. "I'm staying in the gaming business. . . . I'm looking for different ventures."
Among them, he said, were negotiations with New York City for rights to berth an ocean-going casino cruise ship that would take possibly 2,000 passengers from Manhattan into international waters for gambling.
"You always carry a burden," he said of the 1977 fire, "but I can live with myself. That's over; it's part of our past."
Unlike his father, Ron Schilling would not respond to 20-year-old criticisms of the supper club. "I'm not going to comment on that." The youngest brother, Raymond, the fourth member of the family 4-R Corp. that owned Beverly Hills, has remained in Northern Kentucky.
Known as Scott, he lives in Kenton Hills, and until recently ran a Dixie Highway store catering to owners of Scotties.
Unlike his father and brothers, Scott Schilling would not talk about his recent ventures or the fire and its aftermath.
Despite official and unofficial criticisms and a grand jury investigation, no one was prosecuted for a crime in the Beverly Hills fire.
BUSBOY LED 1,000 TO SAFETY May 23, 1997