Fire Destroys Pan Pacific Auditorium

Times Staff Writers

A suspicious fire Wednesday destroyed Los Angeles’ Pan Pacific Auditorium, a 54-year-old landmark that for decades served as one of the city’s major sports and entertainment centers and commanded a worldwide reputation for its distinctive architecture.

“I think it could be arson,” said Assistant Fire Chief Tony Ennis.

“We got inside for a quick look, but we couldn’t tell anything,” said Capt. Gary Seidel of the Fire Department’s arson squad. “Everything was all wet. It will be a couple of days before we know the cause.”

Investigators said late Wednesday that they want to question a man who arrived at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s emergency room suffering from smoke inhalation.


“Right now, we just want to talk to him in regards to what he observed at the time of the fire,” said Seidel.

The fire began shortly after 7 p.m. At times, flames from the dilapidated, boarded-up auditorium at 7600 Beverly Blvd. shot 200 feet into the night sky and could be seen from as far away as the Civic Center and the Silver Lake area.

Streets were closed for four blocks in each direction from the blaze, but spectators by the hundreds walked to the scene, just east of CBS’ Television City, and watched flames write the final chapter in the auditorium’s uncertain recent history.

“We have lost a monument here,” said Stanley Treitel, head of a community group working to revitalize the Fairfax district. He said the county was moving toward rehabilitating the building and preserving its facade.

The spectacle created a tremendous traffic jam. “People were still coming home from work, and the streets were gridlocked,” said Carol Botney, 27. “People were getting out of their cars, and some were fighting. With the huge smoke cloud, it looked like a scene after they dropped the bomb.”

The fire started in the building’s southwest corner, Ennis said. Two firefighting task forces arrived almost immediately, one going inside and another going to the roof to open it for ventilation, he said.


“Our first fire units in found a man either just in or just out of the building when they arrived,” said Fire Marshall Craig Drummond. “He appeared to have suffered slight burns, and they took him to the rescue ambulance for treatment. But he bailed out and disappeared into the crowd.”

Officials believe this was the same man who later appeared at Cedars. No other injuries were reported.

The smoke inhalation victim left the hospital before he was treated, Seidel said, but a witness jotted down his license plate number. Arson investigators went to an undisclosed address where the car’s registered owner lives. The man had not arrived by 11 p.m., Seidel said.

Seidel said the man was not considered a suspect. He said preliminary indications were that the man was a passer-by who tried to help put out the fire.

Firefighters said it was virtually impossible to fight the fire from outside because the fire’s “seat,” or point of origin, was inside.

“If you can’t get to the seat of the fire, you’ll never put it out,” said firefighter Roy Rodriguez, a member of the first company to arrive at the scene. “We’re going to let it go, then we’re going to put it out.”


Within an hour, the building’s east wall and roof had collapsed. Witnesses said they heard what sounded like two large explosions before the roof was engulfed in flames.

John Ewing, 48, a vice president of a heating and air conditioning firm, said he saw at least 10 firefighters “up on the roof cutting holes. The flames came through the holes. You could see them backing away.”

Officials said they ordered firefighters off the roof when it became evident that they could not “stay ahead of the flames.”

Fire Capt. Keith Massey expressed disappointment in the inability to check the blaze. “We’ve been out here every month for the last 15 years, practicing how to fight this fire,” he said.

Officials said the fire traveled along the roof very quickly. Ten minutes after firefighters left the roof, part of it collapsed.

“It sounded like a big tree falling, crackling noises at first and then a big crash,” said Scott Vincent, 29, of the roof’s collapse. “Standing across the street, you could feel the heat.”


Martin Echivibel said he first “saw the smoke from Venice, then from Culver City. I decided to come watch. The flames were big. Watching from Culver City, it looked so close.”

At the fire’s peak, more than 200 firefighters from 50 companies--some from as far away as the San Fernando Valley--battled the blaze.

As firefighters contained the flames, all that was left standing were three charred walls and the distinctive fin-shaped pylons at the entrance. The pylons began to collapse about an hour later.

The fire was stubborn. By 10 p.m., it finally was controlled, but the damage was done. Only one pylon remained standing, and it fell about 15 minutes later.

Opened in 1935, the once-magnificent auditorium was an early home to the Ice Capades, car shows, circuses, conventions, political gatherings, concerts and hockey and basketball games.

Considered a prime example of the short-lived architectural style called Streamline Moderne--an expression of America’s romance with machines and transportation--the auditorium has stood empty since 1972.


Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Edward J. Boyer, Mathis Chazanov, John Kendall and John H. Lee.