LAMTA 3146 at the Ponet Square Hotel, March 1963

By Steve Crise

As the end of the line grew closer for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority’s streetcars, many fans rushed to the streets to photograph the last days of electric transit operations in Los Angeles. One such person was Richard R. Andrews. In his March 1963 photograph seen here, is LAMTA 3146 rushing eastbound through the intersection of Pico Blvd at Grand Ave in what seems to be just another casual view captured just days before the end of streetcar operations. But a closer study will revile two interesting structures in this scene that have other stories to tell.

The building immediately behind the streetcar is the Ponet Square Hotel.  It was built in 1907 and named for its developer and owner, Victor Ponet , a Belgian immigrant that made his fortune in real estate during the boom years in early Los Angeles. As development progressed further and further away from the central core of downtown Los Angeles, the Ponet Square Hotel lost it fashionable address and by the early 1960’s was primarily a residence for elderly and low income families.

On September 13, 1970, the Ponet was thrust into the spotlight as the scene of what was to be one of LA’s deadliest fires. A deranged resident living on the ground floor set a fire in the linen room and quickly spread up a stairwell, trapping many people on the three floors above. A total of19 lives were lost in the blaze and many more dozen were injured.

At the time of the fire, I was a paper boy for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. I vividly recall reading accounts from the many displaced survivors of the incident and seeing photos in the papers for many days after the inferno was put out. At some point shortly thereafter, our family piled into our station wagon one weekend and drove downtown to see the burnt out hulk of the once elegant Ponet Square Hotel. The streets around the hotel were closed off to traffic for quite some time after the blaze so we had to park and walk to get a closer view. Had this fire occurred seven years prior, it would have surly disrupted service for many weeks on the P Line.

As a result of this tragic fire, 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.

Additional information and a detailed account of this history making fire can be seen here:

Further in the background of this photograph we can clearly see the eastern elevation of the “Hotel Morrison” which still survives today as of the time of this writing. As some of you may have already guessed, the Hotel Morrison was the site of the December 17, 1969 photo shoot with the legendary rock band “The Doors” for their 1970 release of the hit album “Morrison Hotel”. Photographer Henry Diltz selected the front of the hotel, which was at 1246 South Hope Street, on a suggestion from band member Ray Manzarek as possible location for the album cover shoot. The hotel management refused to give permission to the band to go inside the lobby and pose behind the glass window but that didn’t stop them for long. While the coast was clear, the band snuck inside the lobby and posed as Henry had directed them. Henry shot off an entire roll of film from many different angles before it was time to go, one frame which became the cover of the album can be seen here along with some other interesting facts about the photo shoot.

Many years later I had the good fortune of meeting Henry Diltz at one of the photo labs we both frequented on La Brea Ave. From that meeting I bought several prints from Henry’s various publicity sessions he had shot with the Doors. One of those photos is hanging on my office wall and is what brought to mind the Morrison Hotel connection to Richard’s streetcar photo.

Only a few short months and several hundred feet separate the Doors December 17 1969 photo shoot at the Morrison Hotel from the September 13 1970 fire at the Ponet Square Hotel fire. Although these two events seem worlds apart, their relationship to each other is brought into close proximity with this 1963 study of this streetcar image at the intersection of Pico Blvd and Grand Ave. – Steve Crise, September 4, 2019.

Richard R Andrews Photo, Robert Gaddie Collection donated to MLPSI/PERYHS


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Showing 2 comments
  • George Hays

    It looks like the advertising card holder is removed from the front of the car. Did this mar it’s appearance when it was there or did it become part of it? The L. A. trolley buses often had lighted BUBBLE-UP signs in front but they weren’t the property of the MTA and disappeared slightly before March 30, 1963. I imagine they were plastic and the Southern California sun was very hard on them. Did any survive?

  • Al Donnelly

    People wouldn’t understand this now, but in those days we used to follow the fire trucks on our bicycles right to where those events were in progress. Krowd Kontrol was a basically non-existant koncept. And it wasn’t unusual for us to walk through a damp and smoke-smelly fire scene after the damage had been done. Ambulances were still dressed-up Caddy wagons. And being “paper boys”, we probably had a little too much exposure to news that other children might have been sheltered from (some people wouldn’t even allow TV’s into their houses). With no more streetcars, you had three choices…deliver papers to earn money, hitchhike rides to the beaches, or walk/skateboard to a public pool (ie. skip the slow bus, pocket the change, and have some spending coin). Fires, shootings, and Hollywood location filmings were as good a distraction as one of the holiday parades. Not to go way off topic, but slightly before that Morrison Hotel shoot Creedence posed in front of the mystery Duck Kee Market for the Willy and the Poor Boys cover. Long before we has the internet to give instantaneous access to every bit of trivia I was driving between Oregon/Washington and Los Angeles when, for some unknown and god-awful reason, I decided to drive around Oakland’s backwaters. Lo and behold, the Duck Kee was soon staring me in the face as though twenty years had never passed. Of course, another decade on and someone stole the sign.

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