LOS ANGELES – Fire tore through a nightclub at the storied corner of Hollywood and Vine, covering the famous neighborhood around the landmark Pantages Theater and Capitol Records building with smoke and ash.
The one-story building is home to the Basque Nightclub & Restaurant, but it was not open at the time and no injuries were reported, firefighters said.
Council Tom LaBonge said he was hiking near the Griffith Park Observatory at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday when he saw the fire erupt a few miles away. "I saw what looked like an orange meteor busting through the roof ... a half moon of orange glow."
The fire was knocked down at 7:56 a.m., Battalion Chief Mario Rueda said at a news conference in front of the charred nightclub.
Arriving firefighters were in the building for 15 minutes before they were ordered out because of a massive billboard that was starting to lean and sagging air conditioning units on the nightclub roof.
"It was a hairy moment," Rueda said.
Firefighters then established a billboard collapse zone and fought the fire from the outside.
Four businesses were damaged — the nightclub, a tattoo parlor, a beauty supply company and a vacant shoe store, Battalion Chief Ronnie Villanueva said. The extent of the losses were not immediately available.
Villanueva said firefighters were lucky the fire took place so early and engines could get through the streets traditionally clogged with tourists.
Arson investigators were on scene but hadn't entered the building, he said.
Councilman Eric Garcetti said there was concern because it was one of several fires in older buildings in the area in the last 18 months. "They are probably unrelated but the fact that we're seeing five fires in a 10-block square radius bears some investigation," he said.
The corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was a mecca for stars and fans in Hollywood's Golden Era when many nightclubs were nearby. The famed art deco Pantages Theatre is just steps to the east.
Hollywood likes to call it the world's "most famous intersection in the most famous neighborhood."
Many buildings in the neighborhood date from the 1930s and "they take extra care," Garcetti said.
The nightclub was last inspected on Feb. 15 and passed, Garcetti said.
The Basque, built in the 1920s or '30s, has been a Brown Derby restaurant, a Howard Johnson's restaurant, a nightclub called Deep, a music studio and other businesses through the years.
It's where Lindsey Lohan celebrated her 21st birthday and where Kanye West partied just nine days ago.
Matt Damon played cards in the building (when it was Deep) for scenes in the movie "Ocean's Eleven," Councilman Tom LaBonge said.
Celebrities with Walk of Fame stars at the corner include actors James Stewart, James Dean and Robert Sterling, actresses Judy Garland, Deborah Kerr, singer Slim Whitman and jazz pianist Eddie Heywood.
The subway through the area remained open, but traffic through Hollywood came to a halt.
Twenty-six engine companies, six rescue units and 180 firefighters battled the blaze, forming a surreal scene as dawn highlighted palm trees from above and fire set them aglow from below.
Labonge lauded firefighter efforts to battle the blaze. "There is a renaissance in Hollywood and, like a Phoenix out of the ashes, there will come a greater day."