The Dongdu Commercial Building in Luoyang city was a serious fire hazard whose management had been repeatedly warned by the municipal Government to improve its safety.
The building was constructed in the early 1980s and was rated as 'dangerous' by the city's Fire and Safety Department, according to a Luoyang resident.
In front of the building is a line of wooden booths in the plaza, which possibly hindered the fire engines and other emergency vehicles from getting closer to the site.
The building used to be the home of Luoyang's first and most popular department store, according to locals.
It is unclear if the architecture of the building also contributed to the heavy death toll.
Reports by residents who are familiar with the building say it had a courtyard in the middle, where escalators were situated. Witnesses said they saw the fire engulf the escalators and fire exits.
The department store, in the old quarter of Luoyang, was established soon after China opened up to the outside. It was built on the premises of an old commercial building.
When the building was a popular venue in the early 1980s, the six-floor structure - four floors above ground and two below - was one of the main shopping destinations in the city.
'I used to buy most of my home appliances there, so did everyone else,' said one Luoyang resident.
The dance hall on the fourth floor, opened at the same time as the department store, used to be a favourite hangout for local teenagers who aspired to a modern and Westernised lifestyle.
But as more upscale venues were constructed in the city, the Dongdu Commercial Building became less important.
Apart from competition from other venues, Dongdu also suffered from problems that plagued most state-owned companies.
After the company went bankrupt, the department store was sold to Dennis Merchandising, a hypermarket operator thought to be owned by a Taiwanese.
Dennis Merchandising, which was scheduled to open today, planned to sell groceries among other items.
Renovation workers were rushing to get ready for the grand opening when the fatal fire broke out.