Jan. 2, 2002, By Erika Hayasaki
The L.A. Times
A piece of Hollywood history went up in smoke Tuesday as a possible arson blaze gutted a turn-of-the-century apartment building once called home by an assortment of stars and celebrity hopefuls.
One hundred firefighters battled for more than two hours to douse the flames that began to roar through the vacant 64-unit Hillview apartments at about 9:15 a.m., causing an estimated $500,000 in damage.
A supervisor at the scene said gasoline was found on the first floor of the four-story Mediterranean structure. But he referred official comment to Fire Department spokesman Jim Wells, who would say only that an arson investigation is underway. The pink stucco structure was built in 1917, in the era of silent movies, by film tycoon Jesse L. Lasky as a place for aspiring stars. Residents included silent screen actress Mae Busch, who appeared in the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
At the time, during the industry's infancy, many landlords considered actors unreliable tenants. Some Hollywood boarding houses posted signs reading: "No actors, no dogs." Lasky, who produced Hollywood's first feature film, "The Squaw Man," in 1913, saw the need--and the market--for specialized housing.
"Historically, you couldn't name an actor that didn't live here," Douglas Carlton of the preservation group Keep Old Los Angeles said of the apartments at 6533 Hollywood Blvd.
But the luster of the Hillview's heyday dulled long ago.
Although it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, no one has lived there since 1994, when the Northridge earthquake damaged many units. Around the same time, the building took another jolt when subway construction along Hollywood Boulevard caused more damage. The owners at the time said they wanted to level the building.
Since then, the Hillview has switched hands several times. On Tuesday, a for-sale sign stood in front of the charred apartments. No one at Millennium Holdings, a Santa Monica-based real estate company that posted the sign, could be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Hillview is sandwiched between a tattoo parlor and narrow Hudson Street.
Neighbors, meanwhile, mourned the loss of a building that symbolized the old Hollywood at a time when the area is undergoing a major overhaul, marked by the opening in November of the $615-million Hollywood & Highland retail entertainment center.
"It was a beautiful building. What a shame," said Rochelle Lesinsky, 59, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly two years. "They're only saving a few [old buildings], you know, and this one was salvageable."
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