Fire on East Fourth Street

Nathan Marsak

Nathan Marsak

· 7 min read

RIPLosAngeles blogs the destruction of our environment via demolition permits, but remember, historic structures are lost to other means and methods as well. For example, fire. You might argue "that Edwardian apartment building was hit by lightning, man, that's a damnum fatale! Get over it!" or "that Victorian storefront was torched by rioters, whatever dude, that's totally force majeure!"

But today's post concerns a pattern of blazes in a particular part of town. A pattern of negligence and misfeasance that is getting structures burned, firemen hurt, and neighbors adversely impacted.

Today's post is about 329-335 East 4th St.

Richard Arenz—the wallpaper and paint king of Los Angeles—built a handful of apartment buildings in Los Angeles. (One, the 1907 Wawona Hotel at 533-35 South Wall St., was of particular importance. Charles Frederick Whittlesey, pioneering visionary in matters pertaining to reinforced concrete, designed the Wawona as the first reinforced concrete hotel building in the city. It was demolished in 1975 for the Adrian Wilson-designed Police Central Facilities bldg at 251 East 6th.)

Arenz's hotel and storefront structure at 329-35 E. 4th was permitted in May 1909. The architects were Hunt, Eager & Burns.

Now, I'm not going to produce a lengthy discourse on Hunt, Eager and/or Burns. Suffice it to say, super important. Moreover the engineers, Mayberry & Parker, were second only to Whittlesey in their significant achievements regarding development of early reinforced concrete technique.

The ground floor became Arenz' HQ; the rooms above, the Hotel Wesley, which provided furnished rooms to "Mr. Workingman":

And so the structure stood, relatively unmolested. While I don't have a vintage image of the place, it once had a cornice; in accordance with LABC Section 91.8114, the 1949 "Parapet Ordinance," the owner removed the building's cornice in early 1951.

Let's cut to the chase. Tuesday last, it burned:

via Twitter

Watch it burn, here.

See this incredible drone footage shot by Steve, AKA The Artery:

As I mentioned above, you might chalk this up to just an "Act of God." Yup, nothin' you can do about one little old building lightin' itself on fire!

However, from what I have gathered, this is part and parcel of an area that has seen repeated major fires in the last couple years. The four major structure fires in a two-block area in the Toy District have all had one thing in common: the giant black clouds of black, toxic smoke. Specifically, it's the smoke from what these structures warehouse—products sold in the local bong shops.

Improper storage allows these places to ignite ad nauseum. These buildings are packed with heavily concentrated inventory of incorrectly handled volatile compounds—hash oil, whippets, compressed air, and a million canisters of related vaping whatnot, in short, illegally stored hazardous materials that endanger public health. We've seen massive fires on Third near San Pedro, and Third near Los Angeles St.

The Boyd Fire was one of these fires; it occurred in one of Steve Sungho Lee's buildings, the "Smoke Tokes" warehouse at 327 E. Boyd (a couple hundred feet to the north from Tuesday's fire). Lee stored a ton of volatile materials therein, what LAFD called "an excessive quantity" of nitrous oxide and butane canisters.

Hundreds of firefighters fought that blaze, which they simply thought was a ventilation-limited structure fire, until there was a roar like a jet engine and an enormous explosion. Eleven firefighters were hospitalized; three critically hurt. Only two of the eleven ever returned to work—the rest were permanently physically injured, including one that lost use of his hands.

Building owner Lee was looking at serious jail time over the 163 criminal charges brought against him. Of course, he wasn't punished in the least. The fact that Lee is a heavy financial contributor to committees that support certain councilmembers, I'm sure, has nothing to do with that. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer was furious that Lee walked, but, whattayagonna do.

After that fire, the number of structures in the neighborhood holding dangerous, flammable, toxic materials increased by leaps and bounds. 90013 is one of the most polluted zip codes in all of California; routine toxic clouds sure doesn't help that much.

The owners of the property that burned Tuesday are Jennette Huang and Kiet Tran of Royal Assets LLC; not much is known about them, save they formed the LLC when they bought the building in 2016, and their address is a box at some UPS store in Rosemead. Was Tuesday's fire in their building the result of another volatile compounds ignition? Fire officials commented that the "dense storage" inside the building added difficulties in battling the blaze, but LAFD did not indicate what kind of material contributed to the conflagration. Building signage indicates the most recent tenants as Van Long Silk and Crafts, and Bebe Elegante baby products (though Bebe apparently has been closed for years). Truth be told there's no reason to believe the whole building wasn't filled with stuffed animals, waiting to be handed out to needy orphans. But, you know.

So, having spoken to the dangers of living in the area, let me get back to my real passion: the built environment, and the dangers of losing historic structures. In short: NO, you are not allowed to tear down the still-standing facade of the 1909 Arenz Block/Hotel Wesley. Did you HEAR ME? I said NO!

RIPsters, if you, like me, feel that this façade should remain part of the streetscape, as it has for the last 114 years, you might take a moment to write a brief, clear email expressing your concern to Christopher Antonelli, the Area Director of Council District 14. He will begin the work of coordinating between LADBS, LAFD, CD14 Planning Director Gerald Gubatan, area representatives for DLANC, etc. Mr. Antonelli may be reached at

I am deeply indebted to, and thankful for, the sage guidance of Katherine McNenny in gathering information for this post; Katherine is a long-time resident of the area, and cofounder of the extremely important Industrial District Green.

Nathan Marsak

About Nathan Marsak

NATHAN MARSAK says: “I came to praise Los Angeles, not to bury her. And yet developers, City Hall and social reformers work in concert to effect wholesale demolition, removing the human scale of my town, tossing its charm into a landfill. The least I can do is memorialize in real time those places worth noting, as they slide inexorably into memory. In college I studied under Banham. I learned to love Los Angeles via Reyner’s teachings (and came to abjure Mike Davis and his lurid, fanciful, laughably-researched assertions). In grad school I focused on visionary urbanism and technological utopianism—so while some may find the premise of preserving communities so much ill-considered reactionary twaddle, at least I have a background in the other side. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and began to document. I drove about shooting neon signs. I put endless miles across the Plains of Id on the old Packard as part of the 1947project; when Kim Cooper blogged about some bad lunch meat in Compton, I drove down to there to check on the scene of the crime (never via freeway—you can’t really learn Los Angeles unless you study her from the surface streets). But in short order one landmark after another disappeared. Few demolitions are as contentious or high profile as the Ambassador or Parker Center; rather, it is all the little houses and commercial buildings the social engineers are desperate to destroy in the name of the Greater Good. The fabric of our city is woven together by communities and neighborhoods who no longer have a say in their zoning or planning so it’s important to shine a light on these vanishing treasures, now, before the remarkable character of our city is wiped away like a stain from a countertop. (But Nathan, you say, it’s just this one house—no, it isn’t. Principiis obsta, finem respice.) And who knows, one might even be saved. Excelsior!””
Nathan’s blogs are: Bunker Hill Los Angeles, RIP Los Angeles & On Bunker Hill.

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