A popular celebrity hangout near Hollywood and Vine, in the heart of Hollywood, was gutted Tuesday morning by a blaze that took nearly 2 1/2 hours to bring under control.
Flames reached 40 feet at the fire’s peak, sending up a plume of smoke visible for miles. As many as 180 firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze that destroyed Basque Nightclub and Restaurant in the 6200 block of West Hollywood Boulevard.
The fire broke out about 5:30 a.m. in the club where actress Lindsay Lohan celebrated her 21st birthday and rap star Kanye West partied in recent weeks. The site is at the hub of Hollywood’s ongoing redevelopment, close to numerous high-end projects, including loft buildings, a W Hotel and residences now under construction. Los Angeles fire officials said the blaze was 99% contained by about 8 a.m.
City Councilman Tom LaBonge was on a hike in Griffith Park when he saw the flames and rushed to the scene.
“It looked like a meteor, a half-moon of orange flames,” LaBonge said.
About 30 minutes into battling the blaze, firefighters had to leave the building because of concerns that the structure, which had a huge billboard on its roof, was not stable, said d’Lisa Davies of the Los Angeles Fire Department. After the fire was out, workers from the billboard company removed the sign to alleviate stress on the structure, officials said.
“That reduced the weight by about 4,000 pounds. That’s the quickest diet you can go on,” said Fire Capt. Armando Hogan.
After the billboard was taken down, arson investigators entered the nightclub, but firefighters were still kept out. Cleanup efforts continued to impede traffic in the area for hours, with lanes on Vine Street and Hollywood Boulevard nearest to the building closed well into the afternoon because of continuing concerns that the building might be structurally unsound.
“We are very fortunate that it was an early morning fire where the amount of people out there was minimal,” L.A. Fire Battalion Chief Ronnie Villanueva said. “The companies were able to come in without traffic and people and have a good, aggressive attack.”
Crews used aerial ladders to pour water on the flames, working to prevent the fire from spreading. At one point, at least six helicopters were overhead.
Shortly after the fire was extinguished, Shimul Barua and his family surveyed the damage at his souvenir shop next door. Smoke permeated the T-shirts, postcards and disposable cameras packed into the Hollywood Gift and Food Mart on Hollywood Blvd.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about this,” said Barua, pointing to the flooded linoleum and a hole in the roof. “Everything is damaged.”
Another door down, Mack Khanani, 28, gave thanks that his Tabu Smoke Shop was unscathed. No damage, he said, not even from smoke.
The building devastated by the fire was home to three other businesses: Dan Dee Shoe Repair, the Bloodshot Tattoo & Piercing Studio and the San Miguel Spa and Salon.
The building, although not one of the neighborhood’s more famous, has had its moments in the spotlight. Scenes from the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” were shot at the nightclub, said City Council President Eric Garcetti, who represents the area. Garcetti, who was at the scene, said the property had recently been sold as part of a renovation effort in Hollywood.
Garcetti said the building dated to the 1930s, and fire officials said that over the years it had housed a Howard Johnson restaurant, a nightclub called Deep and a music studio.
Garcetti noted that the fire was the sixth in the area this year. On Sunday, a blaze apparently sparked by faulty wiring gutted a restaurant about two blocks south.
Three fires in January and one in February appear to have been separate incidents, said Battalion Chief John Miller, who heads the arson investigations unit.
“I think we can dispel there are any apparent connections here,” he said. “I don’t think there are a pattern of fires that have some sort of tie-in.”
Garcetti dismissed any potential effect of the fires on Hollywood’s development spurt.
“We’re past the point of no return with the Hollywood renaissance,” he said.
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.