21-year-old Humberto torched the Dorothy Mae Apartment
Hotel in downtown Los Angeles in 1982 after a dispute with his uncle who
managed the building. The blaze killed 25 residents and got Humberto a
625-Year Prison Sentence
The New York Times
June 29, 1985
Humberto De La
Torre, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for setting fire to a
downtown hotel and killing more than two dozen people, was sentenced
today to 625 years to life in prison by Judge Robert Devich of Superior
'It was as if the devil himself lived there.'
By George Ramos - Los Angeles Times
March 22, 1988
Near Sunset Boulevard and Figueroa Street, just north of downtown Los
Angeles, there is a flurry of construction work taking place these days.
More than 400 apartments are being built to meet the growing demand for
housing in the area.
But in the midst of the hammering and sawing, a piece
of vacant land at 821 W. Sunset Blvd. remains untouched--dwarfed by the
activity around it. Upon it once sat a 43-unit apartment building, which
became the scene of one of the deadliest residential fires in city
The Dorothy Mae Apartment Hotel was swept by flames
early in the morning of Sept. 4, 1982. Nineteen people, including an
unborn baby and its mother, perished as the fire roared through the 50-year-old,
three-story structure. Thirty-six other people were injured, and, within
10 days, six of them had died.
Only the 1973 Stratford Apartments fire, in which 25
people were killed and 52 were injured, was as deadly, Los Angeles fire
The Dorothy Mae fire devastated what was literally an
extended family. The building was informally known as "Little Salitre"
because virtually all its nearly 200 residents came from the rural town
of El Salitre in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. Many fire victims were
related to one another.
Authorities said the inferno was a case of arson--the
result of an argument between the manager and a nephew, who lived in the
building, over the latter's membership in a street gang, his smoking of
marijuana and spray painting of graffiti.
Upset, the nephew, Humberto de la Torre, then 19,
brought a dollar's worth of gasoline, threw it on the floor of an
apartment and then ignited it with a match, investigators said. The
flames spread quickly, engulfing the building. The uncle, Mateo de la
Torre, was unhurt in the blaze.
Humberto de la Torre was arrested the following
December in Texas, pleaded guilty to 25 counts of murder and in 1985 was
sentenced to 625 years in prison. He is now serving his sentence at
The fire rendered even the land itself practically
useless for a while, its owners, a group of businessmen holding it for
"It was as if the devil himself lived there," said
attorney Hiran Kwan, a member of HLL Management Co. that owned the
Dorothy Mae, expecting the land's proximity to the city's growing
Chinatown would make it an increasingly valuable site.
Kwan said his group found little interest in its
plans to build a new apartment house or hotel on the lot. He blamed
adverse publicity stemming from the fire and false rumors that owners
were going to be prosecuted because fire officials had found unsafe
conditions that might have contributed to the toll. (Fire Department
records showed the building had generally been kept up to city fire code
standards and had been cited in the past for only minor violations.)
Kwan's group, which is a major player in the current
round of construction near Sunset and Figueroa, sold the Dorothy Mae
land in 1984 for $500,000 to another group of businessmen, headed by
Chinatown banker Kenneth Wong.
Wong said his group, U.P. Investment Inc., wants to
use the Dorothy Mae site as part of a major hotel and a shopping center
development along Sunset. The group is trying to put together financing
for the $19-million project, said Wong, board chairman of United Pacific