Two transients were found dead Monday morning after fire raged through the boarded-up McKinley Mansion, a stately home near Lafayette Park that was declared a historic monument seven years ago in an effort to save it from demolition.
The blaze in the landmark structure--long since stripped of the elaborate furnishings that had made it a Los Angeles showplace in the decades after World War I--was reported by passersby at 6:09 a.m.
Firefighters reached the bluff-top home overlooking Rampart Boulevard a few minutes after the call came in, and finally snuffed out the blaze about 7:15 a.m.
The identity of the victims was not immediately determined, and the cause of their deaths also remained a mystery. But the county coroner’s office said autopsies would be performed within the next few days.
With the blaze under control, firefighters began to search the cavernous building.
One of the victims was found on the second floor. The other was discovered sprawled in the third-floor attic.
The crumbling, 13,000-square-foot Italian Renaissance-style home had been unoccupied for years. However, neighbors said transients often scaled the chain-link fence surrounding the extensive, weed-choked grounds to take up temporary residence there.
Rod Daniels and his wife, Sherry, a San Fernando Valley couple who spent years in a futile attempt to save the historic home, were left heartbroken by the fire that claimed the two lives and dashed their longtime dream.
“My heart is gone,” Rod Daniels said Monday after viewing the blackened ruins. “It’s like losing a member of the family.”
The ornate, 20-room house at 3rd Street and Lafayette Park Place was built by a millionaire from Ohio in 1915 as a winter home. Daniels said a series of other families bought the house, lived in it for a while and then resold it before it was purchased in 1945 by Maytor McKinley, the wealthy mortuary owner for whom it is named.
McKinley lived there until his death about 20 years later. His widow lived there until she died in the mid-1980s.
In 1987, after developers purchased the property with the intent of building a 118-unit apartment complex on it, the Los Angeles Conservancy intensified its efforts to save the old house. A few months later, on the urging of the conservancy, the city declared the mansion a cultural-historic monument.
That’s when the Danielses stepped in.
Purchasing the structure from the developers for a token $1, they announced plans to saw it into three pieces and haul it, one piece at a time, to a site in Chatsworth.
“It was still in perfect condition when we bought it, except for some gold-plated doorknobs and light fixtures that were missing,” Sherry Daniels said.
But despite the couple’s best intentions, their plans for saving the old house came to naught. Although the developer’s efforts to tear down the structure without a permit on New Year’s Eve, 1988, were foiled, the Danielses ran out of money, and the boarded-up mansion stayed where it was.
Over the next six years, the development plans stagnated.
Year by year, the house continued to decay--broken roof tiles, shattered windows and piles of trash accumulating in a yard dominated by the ruins of the once-grand front porch, ripped from the mansion during the aborted attempt to tear it down in 1988.
The demolition work was all but completed Monday by the fire.
“When I saw it this morning, I felt sick, just sick,” Sherry Daniels said. “It could have been one of the most beautiful homes in Los Angeles. Instead, it’s gone.”