Predawn Blaze Destroys a Hollywood Landmark


A landmark Hollywood theater that once served as the home of radio studios and later hosted “The Merv Griffin Show” was gutted by fire Sunday.

No one was injured in the predawn blaze, but damage to the vacant Trans American Video Celebrity Theater, at Vine Street and Selma Avenue, was estimated at $500,000, said city Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.

Officials are investigating the cause of the fire, which was listed as “suspicious in origin,” he said.


The theater, which was built in the late 1920s or early 1930s, once housed offices where Sammy Cahn and Irving Berlin wrote songs, entertainer-turned-real estate mogul Merv Griffin told the Associated Press in an interview from his desert home in La Quinta.

“I hate to hear about the fire,” Griffin said. “That wipes out every good memory of mine. I was in awe of what went on in there.”

After Griffin’s program, the building hosted “The Love Connection” television show. More recently, however, the building lost its glamour as it became a hangout for transients, fire officials said. It was unclear whether its current status was a factor in the fire, they said.

The two-story building was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived early Sunday and began blasting the blaze with water from huge extension ladders. It took 165 firefighters more than 1 1/2 hours to extinguish the fire.

“Buildings constructed back then were very unstable to begin with and not designed to withstand the pressure of modern-day water hoses,” the Fire Department’s Humphrey said. “It is a very challenging thing to put out a fire under these conditions. It’s not just a matter of squirting water on a building.”

Griffin said he bought the property in the late 1970s from a business group headed by the late Sammy Davis Jr., and acquired other buildings on the block, as well.


But Griffin sold the theater in 1986 as part of a package deal that included the sale of his game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.”

He told the Associated Press that the area was a bustling community years ago during the heyday of radio.

“This was an amazing radio neighborhood,” Griffin said. “Across the street was NBC Radio, my building was ABC Radio, nearby was CBS Radio. Frank Sinatra’s ‘Lucky Strike Hit Parade’ was done here. . . .

“That whole three blocks was the center of show business for everything other than movies. It was a very star-studded three blocks.”