‘Nothing left’: After California Yacht Club fire, residents mourn loss of a beloved spot

Two firefighters injured fighting a massive overnight fire that destroyed

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In an instant, an overnight seaside blaze engulfed decades’ worth of boating trophies, historical artifacts and cherished memorabilia at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey on Monday.

Fire crews attempted to control the blaze as heavy smoke and flames consumed the two-story building. By the time they had subdued the fire two hours later, only the skeletal remnants of the clubhouse were left standing.

John Myers, senior vice president of the club, said the blaze had been reported by an employee working late in the clubhouse Monday night. The fire spared the remainder of the facilities on the ground, including the docks and the yachts moored there. But the clubhouse, and particularly its second floor, was all but wiped out.

“We are working closely with the Los Angeles County Fire Department in their investigation of the cause of the incident and will share those findings when they become available to us,” Myers said.

The three towers that make up the Marina City Club

Members are left mourning, comparing the loss to the death of a loved one.

Jennifer Dakoske Koslu awoke in Rancho Mirage at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, before the sun had risen, to find her phone inundated with text messages from club members.

The first message she read simply stated, “The CYC is gone.”

“As soon as I opened my phone, it went to a link on the Citizen app and saw a video of the club burning. I was shocked,” Dakoske Koslu said.

For the last 24 years, Dakoske Koslu and her family have been dedicated members of the CYC, whose clubhouse is a few miles away from their home in Playa del Rey. She said it is where her children have grown up, familiarizing themselves with every inch.

“I remember taking my son there on the Fourth of July when he was just 3 weeks old. It was the first place we went with him as a newborn,” Dakoske Koslu said.

She and her husband biked to the club in the aftermath of the fire, greeted by the charred remains of the building on Wednesday afternoon.

“The destruction is unbelievable. It’s clear that the fire was burning intensely on the second floor,” Dakoske Koslu said. “There’s nothing left.”

The second floor once housed a collection of the club’s prestigious racing trophies, kept on display for members and visitors. The fire melted all but a single salvageable California Cup. Most notably, the priceless King of Spain Trophy, acquired in 1929 from King Alfonso XIII, was lost.

Additionally, the club lost cherished photographs of every past commodore, a significant position within a yacht club. Members said they didn’t know if anyone had digitized the images of the commodores or of the club’s founders.

“We would tell yachting stories at the bar around lots of memorabilia, and the yachting artifacts behind the bar are all gone now,” Tom Materna said. “The yacht club provided us a facility for the off-the-water celebrations after hard-fought competition on the water.”

Boats on the water with palm trees in the background

The CYC dates to the early 1920s, started by boat owners from the Los Angeles Athletic Club and other yacht clubs. The Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the first clubhouse in 1922, designed by famed architect Edwin Bergstrom, co-designer of the Pentagon.

In 1965, the yacht club submitted a proposal for an all-encompassing $1-million, two-story, 10,000-square-foot clubhouse on four acres off Admiralty Way. Members envisioned a state-of-the-art facility with 170 boat slips, a guest dock, a small boat hoist and a dry land storage facility for boats. The clubhouse that resulted was dedicated on June 10, 1967.

Then-Commodore William A. DeGroot Jr. told The Times that the triangular parcel of land on which the clubhouse still sits is a “perfectly logical place for a club facility, and a commanding view down the main channel of the marina.”

Though the building has historical significance to its members, it does not have a historic designation, according to Linda Dishman, president of the Los Angeles Conservancy.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and so grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and our members,” Myers said. “CYC has been a beacon for the nautical community for the past 101 years.”

Materna, 68, first found out about the fire through Facebook as friends posted videos and photos of the damage Tuesday morning. Then he began receiving calls and text messages from friends.

“Everybody woke up in the morning and realized we’d lost a significant part of the sailing community,” Materna said.

His connection to the club dates back nearly 52 years, to when he was just 16 years old. After spending 30 years sailing professionally with Hobie Cats, mainly racing catamarans — a watercraft with two parallel hulls of equal size — he recently served as a crew member on other club members’ racing yachts.

The CYC is pivotal in the boat racing community, organizing and hosting events such as the Optimist National Championship and Junior Olympic trials, Materna said. He fondly remembers the hundreds of people from across the globe converging on the marina for similar events.

The main topic among members now is what’s next for the club. Dakoske Koslu noted that the club’s ownership changed over the last few years, and many are unsure and concerned about the club’s continuation after the fire.

The club relocated to the marina in 1967, leasing the land it sits on from the county.

“I don’t think the county has really valued the contributions of the California Yacht Club as an important part of the Marina. They value Trader Joe’s because it’s more money for them,” Dakoske Koslu said.

Dakoske Koslu said she’s seen numerous small marine-oriented businesses displaced from the marina, making way for more commercialized developments such as Trader Joe’s and Recreational Equipment Inc.

 View of the Marina del Rey main channel

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Anthony De Leon is a 2023-24 reporting fellow at the Los Angeles Times. Born in Fresno to a Chicano family, he pursued his higher education in his hometown, earning an associate‘s degree in journalism from Fresno City College and then completing a bachelor’s in media, communications and journalism at Fresno State. He went on to complete his master’s in media innovation at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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