The Ponet Square Hotel exemplifies a sad narrative shared by a number of Los Angeles’ lost buildings, one which begins with a youthful city’s ambition, only to end with abandonment, decay, and ultimately, tragedy.
The Ponet Square Hotel owes its name to Victor Ponet, a Belgian immigrant who settled in Los Angeles in 1869 after several years in Paris, New York, and San Francisco. Though originally a cabinet-maker by trade, Ponet eventually acquired a substantial fortune through successful investments in the city’s real estate. By the turn of the century, he had emerged as one of the city’s most prominent businessmen, and had also been appointed by his home country as its Vice-Consul serving Southern California and Arizona.
Around 1906, Ponet purchased the city block bordered by Hope Street, Twelfth Street, Grand Avenue, and Pico Boulevard, then at the southwestern edge of the city’s developed core. His first order of business was the construction of a four-story apartment house at the plot’s southeast corner, designed by A. L. Haley (architect of the previously-discussed Nelson Flats). Dubbed the Ponet Square Hotel, the building featured 60 rooms, 30 bathrooms and kitchens, and a large basement ballroom, making it one of the city’s largest residential structures.
As seen in the top photograph, one of the building’s most distinctive features was its concave bend along Grand Avenue. That shape was dictated by the curve of Grand Avenue itself, the result of an imperfect alignment between the city’s Ord and Hancock street grids. A rounded corner complemented the angled facade, and the irregular volume was further accentuated by a bold cornice and a continuous row of tall storefront transom windows.
Like many of the city’s old apartment houses, the Ponet Square Hotel fell gradually into disrepair with the passing years, and it likely would have disappeared in total obscurity had it not been for a fatal disaster. On the morning of September 13, 1970, a deranged resident of the building started a fire on the ground floor, which quickly spread through the building by way of its open stairwell. The blaze resulted in the deaths of 19 residents, mostly working-class immigrants, and it was immediately claimed to have been the deadliest fire in Los Angeles’ history. As a result, the city enacted in 1971 what became known as the Ponet Square Ordinance, which applied its 1943 fire safety codes to all buildings built before that date. The hollowed-out Ponet Square Hotel was demolished soon after the blaze, and its site has remained a parking lot for four decades.
A much more detailed description of the building’s layout and structure, as well as an in-depth account of the deadly fire, can be found at LAFire.com.
1. “Disaster: deadliest fire.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Sep. 1970. D5.
2. Lindgren, Kris. “Postscript: L.A.’s old buildings safer as result of 1970 disaster.” Los Angeles Times. 25 Feb. 1978. OC8.
3. McGroarty, John Steven. Los Angeles from the mountains to the sea, Vol 3. Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1921.
4. “Victor Ponet Building.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Apr. 1906. V24.
Original photo: Dick Whittington Studio. “Pacific Southwest Bank, West Pico Boulevard & South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 1924 – DW-1924-49-64-01,” Dick Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15799coll170/id/68424/rec/599.