A Los Angeles City Councilman on Wednesday vowed to hunt down and arrest the "coward" responsible for torching a beloved Southern California Elks Lodge.
At an afternoon press conference a day after the blaze ripped through the two-story structure in San Pedro, officials said the fire was arson, but offered few details on how investigators came to that conclusion.
"We damn well know that this fire was set on purpose," said Councilman Joe Buscaino, who shared his personal connection with the lodge and identified himself as a member.
Interim Los Angeles Fire Chief James Featherstone said investigators determined Wednesday that the fire had been intentionally set to the landmark.
The lodge, located on a hillside, was engulfed in flames early Tuesday morning, causing the roof to completely collapse.
Officials said the severity of the fire has made the investigation difficult because evidence has been destroyed.
Firefighters were able to save a 109-year-old bible that has been part of ceremonies at the lodge, as well as several other items that officials said were irreplaceable.
Fifty employees were displaced by the blaze, Buscaino said.
Another fire was reported at the same location outside the building at 6 a.m. Sunday, raising concern.
The two fires were suspicious in nature, said Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Steve Ruda on Tuesday.
Ruda called the lodge an "iconic San Pedro landmark" that was "serving the people of San Pedro for over 100 years."
Exalted Ruler Jose Chavez said lodges from Hawaii to New York have called to lend support.
The San Pedro Elks Lodge had more than 2,300 members.
"We will rebuild the Elks," Buscaino said Wednesday. "It will be bigger and stronger than ever."
Dozens of events were scheduled to take place at the lodge, including Katrina Guerrero’s Aug. 9 wedding.
"We went and we just feel in love with it," Guerrero said.
Watching the venue burn down is "probably the worst feeling in the world," she said.
The lodge banquet manager, Sacha Bailey, said calls are pouring in from other facilities offering their space for the lodge’s clients.
"It's scramble time to make sure we can find them a space available," Bailey said.
Some 500 people had planned on attending a Sunday Easter brunch at the lodge, Bailey said. It may now happen at the venue's parking lot.