‘Burn, Baby, Burn – Disco Inferno’ (On Foothill Boulevard)
The 1976 lyrics of the hit song came true for La Crescenta’s one and only disco one hot October night in 1980. Sherlock’s Restaurant and Disco burned to the ground.
The Dundee family had been successful restaurateurs in La Crescenta for several decades. Former pro boxer Vince Dundee Sr. and his son Vince Jr. operated the successful Kona Kai Polynesian-themed restaurant at 3034 Foothill Blvd., and opened the equally successful Scotch Mist steakhouse across the street. In 1977 Vince Jr. passed the torch to his sons, Vince III and Scott, both in their early 20s. The site of the Kona Kai, with its “tiki” styling was transformed into a faux-Tudor styled restaurant and disco called Sherlock’s. By 1980, the restaurant had been remodeled into an “entertainment center” which included the disco (Sherlock’s), the restaurant, renamed Café 34 Restaurante, and a retail Record World record store.
On the night of Oct. 9, a drunk was ejected from the bar and the disco/restaurant closed for the night. At 4 a.m. fireman responded to a call at Sherlock’s and found the east side of the building engulfed in flames. As they fought the fire, the flames traveled through the attic and burst through the roof, damaging other spaces in the building. After an hour the fire was extinguished, but so was the business. The restaurant was destroyed, the record store and its stock ruined, and the disco had suffered extensive fire damage.
The fire investigators concluded that an arsonist started the blaze under an outside stairwell on the east side of the building. It was also found that there had been a gas leak in the kitchen, but investigators were convinced the fire had been set intentionally. In the next few days, newspapers recorded several intentionally set brush fires locally, and a headline read “Firebug On The Loose!”
But here’s where the story takes a mysterious turn.
For a few days after the fire, the Dundee family proclaimed they would rebuild, planning to reopen as a small restaurant/catering business/banquet hall. Weeks, then months, went by and the gutted building stood untouched. In December 1981, an article in the Record Ledger reported that all was not going well for the Dundees’ plans to rebuild. The property, including the building, was owned by long-time CV landowners, the Williamson family. The Dundees maintained that the building they had leased from the Williamsons should be covered under their fire insurance. The Williamsons asserted that the Dundees had violated the terms of their lease, which specified only a restaurant at that location, not a disco or record store. When the Dundees proposed rebuilding with their own money, the Williamsons objected, saying they were unhappy with the disco the Dundees had opened there previously. William and Sophie Williamson, both in their 90s, stated that they would like to see “the property go for some legitimate business.” With those sentiments in mind, both parties countersued each other in court, with Montrose attorney Tom Jeffers representing the Williamsons. The county was breathing down both parties’ necks with orders to demolish the charred structure. The situation got even weirder when the property was repeatedly vandalized, and the Dundee family reported getting death threats. The small portion of the building not damaged in the fire was subleased by the Dundees to H&R Block, who bailed out at the beginning of the tax season when employees were threatened and windows were repeatedly broken. A 1982 article finds the Dundees still fighting to rebuild.
And this is where the trail goes cold. Obviously the building was demolished and never rebuilt, because it’s still an empty lot today. Weedy foundations bake in the heat behind a chain link fence. The weathered Sherlock’s pole sign still stands out front, and a faded placard has proclaimed an upcoming mini-mall for the last two decades.
What was going on here? Why has the lot never been built on? No one seems to know, so for now it remains a mystery. Do any readers know the story?