The fire began shortly before 3 a.m. at the San Pedro Elks Lodge in the 1700 block of West Cumbre Drive. Both floors were engulfed in flames and the roof of the 33,744 square-foot building collapsed, officials said.
Firefighters contained the blaze about two hours later and were able to save most of the auditorium and some valuable artifacts, including a bible, antlers and jewels, before the fire reached them. It was an emotional moment for Exalted Ruler Jose Chavez when its most sacred contents were retrieved.
"They knew to save our lodge room, they saved the Bible, 109-year-history, this makes that fire nothing, saving this Bible means everything to me," said Chavez.
Fire officials said the cause of the fire seemed suspicious. This is the second fire on the property since Sunday. Reports have also been made of a person who intentionally rammed a car into the building's air conditioning units.
Firefighters "thought it was dawn coming up over San Pedro Harbor because there was so much fire," said Battalion Chief Steve Ruda with the Los Angeles Fire Department. "Very unusual to have a fire accelerate that rapidly."
Nearby homeowner and retired firefighter Frank Baker said he "couldn't believe it."
"It had to be flames maybe 100 feet in the air," Baker said.
More than a lodge, it was San Pedro's hub for fundraisers, banquets, scout meetings. An Easter brunch was planned for Sunday.
Katrina Guerrero was planning an August wedding at the Elks Lodge and is left scrambling to find another venue.
"We don't have that much money, but we have a guest list of 200 people," Guerrero said. "We have nowhere. We basically have to start all over."
No injuries were reported. Investigators will determine within the next 24 hours whether the fire was sparked by an arsonist.