|The following are a series of articles that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on the day
(May 24, 1989) after the final Pan Pacific fire, but, as they say in the newsroom, the
See photos here of the fire,
Fire Destroys Pan Pacific Auditorium
By George Stien and Niesom Himmel, Times Staff Writers
A suspicious fire Wednesday distroyed 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 commended a worldwide reputation for it's 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 Dept.'s arson squad. "Everything was
all wet. It well be a couple of days before we know the cause."
Investigators said late Wednesday that they want to question a man 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 up to 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 the 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 Grieg 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 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 Rodrigues, 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 the hour, the buildings east wall and the 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 came evident that they could not "stay ahead of the flames."
Fire Capt. Keith Massey expressed disappointment in the ability to check the blaze. "We've been out here ever 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 the 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 can 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 peek, more than 200 firefighters from 30 companies-some from as far away as the San Fernando Valley-battled the flame.
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 was finally 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 Modern-an expression of America's romance with
machines and transportation-the auditorium has stood empty since 1972.
Like Debut in 1935, the Pan's Final Was a Spectacle
By ESTHER SCHRADER and PATT MORRISON, Times Staff Writers
The Pan left the world the way it came in-ass a media event, and a good show to the last.
Fifty-four years and one week after the Pan opened to a blast of Boy Scouts bugles, the twilight crowds in the Fairfax District strolled
over on Wednesday evening to watch the old auditorium die in the wine of Fire Department sirens.
People walking dogs, young couples in a clinch, all stood watching. Film students, a good dozen at least, ran toward the flames,
rolling tape, trailing wires, marveling at the spectacle. High-school-age Talmudic scholars from Yeshiva school abandoned their
books to watch, their black coats flapping as they ran down the street.
"People are tripping up and down the street," said Joel Deutesh, 45, who lives a block away. "This is all spectating. There's never any
population out on the streets in this area this time of night. This is the most festive evening we can remember, actually."
Much of the city shared the spectacle from where they were. By sunset, the vast smudges of smoke spread out, obscuring the
Hollywood Hills, and at the fire scene, spectators could only occasionally glimpse the four distinctive curved towers of the Pan's
apple-green facade. By 10 a.m., the last of them tipped over in a gush off flames and sparks, green and black smoke.
"It's very sad," said Sarah Housepeters, 45, who stood watching and holding her daughter Lily, 5,. "It's a remnant of history, part of a
bit of Los Angeles is gone. It's a terrible loss."
For much of her life, Nancy Heilbron, 61, has lived nearby. "It's like losing a friend that you loved in a way, if you can love a building like
a friend...it's a part of my life that's gone." She used the Pan to navigate by. "We'd say, 'You know where the Pan Pacific Auditorium
is?'...Now we'll have to sat CBS, I guess."
It was fruitless for the Fire Department to warn people away, the flames drew them to the place-for some, for the first and last time.
David Logan, 25, and, Brandi Machapo, 21, were both dressed in black, but only coincidentally. They had never heard of the Pan,
although they live nearby. Machapo, who works at a Melrose boutique, explained what brought them, "I like fire. The whole tram thing.
It's neat, as long as it's never at my house."
As firefighters trailed long stretches of hose through Pan Pacific Park, which embraces the auditorium, the baseball and soccer
games went on 200 yards from the fire, after the briefest of interruptions. The Yeshiva students returned to class. After-dinner joggers
jogged on the running tracks. Up on Beverly, the usual line of diners waiting for hip Southwestern cuisine at the Authentic Cafe had
something to entertain them as they waited outdoors; they stood watching the fire fight.
"The sky was a royal blue; all the black smoke going up," said John Ewing, waiting for dinner with his wife and two children. "So
Robert DeRoas. 39, was more angry than sentimental: "It's gotta be arson. It's a political thing. It's common knowledge that certain
people in this city don't want it renovate it."
Psychic reader and adviser Dora Evans, whose shop is a block away, allowed that she had not foreseen the fire, but "I felt it was
done accidentally by a crew of people....they didn't mean for it to get so big."
Before the towers had even fallen, Kathleen Rogers had organized Friends of the Pan Pacific Auditorium to force officials to rebuild.
"We've just seen too much distruction of too meny historic buildings in this area. It's criminal what's going on in this city. We're just
going to have a row of banks down Wilshire Boulevard and Beverly Boulevard."
The Pan's history, tarnished by brushes with demolition and years of neglect, began in May 1935: Ten thousand people turned out of
the auditorium's debut, waiting behind a wire barricade for hours before a fanfare of Boy Scouts bugles announced the grand
moment has arrived. The first show to play the auditorium was a 16-day exposition honoring "the Great American Home."
Journalists at the time described the new facility in breathless tones: "The auditorium, huge as it is, has architectural dignity....It is a
permanent structure and will be used for further expositions and conventions."
For 54 years. the permanence held.
Flames Spell an End to Last Word in Art Deco
By PATT MORRISON, Times Staff Writer
The Pan Pacific Auditorium had flirted with death for years-death from fire, death from neglect, death from bureaucratic indifference.
It was not always so.
From the day it opened on May 18, 1935, and for more then 35 years thereafter, the Pan was the one of the biggest gathering places
in Los Angeles, and the last word in Art Deco. It's western facade, 228 feet long with four upswept fin-shaped towers, was a
magnificent piece of Streamline Moderne that epitomized a 1930's American enamored of flight, speed and dynamism.
Before the Music Center, the Sport Arena and the Convention Center ever existed, it was the Pan that embraced in it's cavernous hall
the home and auto shows, the ice hockey games, the Ice Capades and political rallies from constant rumbling.
In 1936, Leopold Stokowski conducted in it's all-wood auditorium. Twenty-one years later, Elvis Presley played the Pan just before he
entered the Army, and police reportedly warned him to keep his act clean.
In 1947, a dozen years after it was built at the cost of $125,000 to host a Depression-era national housing show, the Pan's
stockholders-among them Gen. James Doolittle, orchestra leader Kay Kyser and actors Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell and Joan
Blondell-sold it for $2.25 million to auto magnate E. L. Cord, whose magnificent cars matched the Pan's sleek facade for
Ten thousand people showed up in 1945 for the broadcast of the radio program "Queen For A Day"; only 6,000 could be seated. Gen.
Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to more than 20,000 people at the Pan, a month before the 1952 election that made him President.
For Councilman Zev Yaroslavski, who saw the fire from his home four blocks away, the blaze swept up pleasant memories. "I saw
my first basketball game here, the Harlem Globetrotters, my first indoor tennis match, my first ice skating contest."
"There are probably several hundred thousand people in Los Angeles County who grew up with this as the main indoor arena."
By 1972, a year after the Los Angeles Convention Center opened, the Pan was closed, left behind as an outmoded shell. Behind the
glorious facade was a less-distinctive and less-than-salable 100,000 square feet of space.
By 1978, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which did not seem to impress the vandals and drifters who
hacked it, painted it, set it on fire once or twice. Around Los Angeles, around the county, the Pan was more talked about than tended.
Architectural historians lauded it, and managed to hold off the wrecking ball, but in the end, the Pan was a place many people talked
about but few really did anything about it.
Endless proposals came and went. The Pan seemed perpetually on the brink of being torn down, or perhaps just falling apart on it's
As late as November, the Board of Supervisors was still trying to revive it, voting this time to negotiate with a developer to put in an ice
rink and a theater.
Robert Winter, co-author with David Gebhard of 'Architecture in Los Angeles", which praised it as "probably the city's most
photographed and painted monument," was in his office at Occidental Collage in eagle Rock when he saw the far away smoke.
"What a disaster," he mourned when he learned the source. The Pan, he said, was "incomparable....Nobody took it seriously
because it was just a plaster facade, but it spoke of the 30's like nothing else I know."
Above articles and fire photos (c) Los Angeles Times.