Ever Wonder: Was the Factory a Factory?

Mon, Sep 23, 2013   By Gustave Heully, Design Critic    26 Comments
the factory

The Factory as seen today.

Today, crowds stream through the doors of Ultra Suede at 661 N. Robertson Dr. near Santa Monica and dance the floors of The Factory at 652 N. La Peer Dr. Both entrances are to a single building that West Hollywood knows simply as The Factory. But before it became known for manufacturing ecstatic nightlife, The Factory was an actual factory and used for a number of other things.

The building is a simple box with two small branches, one at Robertson and one in the middle. It is split into multiple floors on the inside and is basic, big, open and raw. It fronts on two streets with entrances on all sides, an unusual feature that has helped it remain viable through the years. That’s because this huge building with its blank exterior can be divided into a jigsaw puzzle of independent spaces and never needs to commit to being just one big thing.

This chopped up quality makes piecing together its story more complex. Parts of the building come alive and others die off independently of the others. Uses overlap, and hiding in every corner are rumors of what might have gone on. Some of these rumors are true, while others are fabrications accepted by many as common knowledge.

mitchell-camera

Mitchell Camera.

The Mitchell Camera Company built The Factory in 1929 to manufacture motion picture cameras. Mitchell cameras were the workhorses of Hollywood studios for decades. The company was owned by a Chicago group with Williams Fox, namesake of the Fox entertainment empire, holding a 50 percent stake. Mitchell Camera thus found itself in the middle of many of Fox’s legal and territorial battles with other studios and manufacturers.

Mitchell’s cameras were so popular that the company decided to increase its production capacity, adding a wing to its Robertson Boulevard factory in February 1941 that extended it to La Peer Drive on the opposite side of the block. In December of that year the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. Much of the country’s manufacturing resources were adapted to the war effort and some believe the Mitchell Camera factory was reconfigured to produce the notorious Norden bombsight.

Bombsight

Members of the Norden Retirees Club raised doubt on whether bombsights were ever produced at The Factory. (Photo by George Johnson, Aviation Section/US Army Signal Corps)

One of the most closely guarded secrets of World War II and the most expensive after the Manhattan Project, a Norden was the bombsight used on the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb that annihilated Hiroshima. By 1945 the production of Norden bombsights was stopped, superseded by more accurate radar technologies.

It has been difficult to locate any evidence that Norden bombsights were produced at The Factory. Members of the Norden Retirees Club identified New York and Connecticut as the primary manufacturing areas and raised doubt about a West Hollywood bombsight factory. The timeline and context does not rule out the possibility, but the idea that Norden bombsights were manufactured in West Hollywood remains little more than rumor.

Mitchell Camera decided to move to Glendale after the war in 1946. The West Hollywood factory then became the Veteran Salvage Depot, a processor of military salvage. There is little on record about this facility, but it made the LA Times in 1951 when a fire damaged it and adjacent factories. The building subsequently became a furniture factory but was abandoned sometime in the 1960s.

In 1967 the factory finally said goodbye to its life as a factory proper and became “The Factory,” a buzzing center of the Los Angeles club scene.

Peter_Lawford_1955

Peter Lawford was one of The Factory’s early investors.

Turning the abandoned furniture factory into a nightclub was the brainchild of Ron Buck, a lawyer, architect and artist who bought the space in 1967 and transformed it into the most exclusive of invitation-only nightclubs. His investors, also club regulars, included Hollywood director Dick Donner (of “Salt and Pepper,” “Superman,” “Lethal Weapon” and “The Goonies”), Peter Lawford (of the Rat Pack), Anthony Newley, Paul Newman, Peter Bren, Jerry Orbach and Pierre Salinger. Some believe The Factory was owned by Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, but a 1967 LA Times article titled “Swinging Shift Runs The Factory” clearly describes it as Buck’s venture and lists his investors with no mention of Sinatra or the Rat Pack beyond Lawford, whose presence likely sparked the rumor.

With its multiple stages of live entertainment, a gourmet restaurant and A-list guests, The Factory quickly became the place to be seen. Buck decorated the club with antiques and a sense of humor. The interior was a mash up of eras and pieces. Nineteenth century pool tables were racked next to antique barber chairs, rows of church pews knelt under crystal chandeliers and bronze Indian heads, wood paneling and leather club chairs added a worn gentlemanly vibe. The interior’s most spectacular feature, repurposed stained glass windows deployed as room dividers, gave the space a twinkling Tiffany sparkle.

The lower floor was converted into an art gallery when the club opened (presumably for Buck’s own work) and numerous businesses and uses of all kinds have carved out their own piece of the factory’s lower floors since. These include, among many others, the offices and manufacturing facility of the Hamilton-Howe furniture company, a collection of arts and crafts shops known as “The Street,” the temporary location of Koontz Hardware, a cabaret theatre called “The Backlot,” which hosted many famous names, various smaller clubs and more recently the Fitness Factory gym.

Spaghetti Village

An advertisement from the LA Times in 1973 shows The Factory as Spaghetti Village.

By 1972 the buzz around The Factory nightclub had waned, and it shut its doors. Potential tenants had difficulty re-opening the space as a nightclub, citing code compliance, health department and parking availability issues. It opened briefly as the “Paradise Ballroom” but, in trouble with county officials, it did not last long. But in 1973 The Factory took a dramatic spin, opening as “Spaghetti Village,” one of the cheesiest of family theme restaurants.

A Disney-like attempt at a literal Spaghetti Western (sans any of Sergio Leone’s talents) Spaghetti Village transformed the interior of the building into a faux street scape. Spaghetti with a choice of 10 different sauces for $2.95 was served in a stage-set-like Wild West jailhouse, fire station, general store and “other quaint settings.” Beer and wine was available in two old-time saloons, and the whole old-timey jumble was topped off with an antique boutique and penny arcade.

Spaghetti Village was gone within two years and the Wild West decor cleared out in 1975 to make room for Studio One, which was to be the hippest of nightspots.

Scott Forbes

Scott Forbes. (Jack Wheeler)

It was the height of the disco era, and West Hollywood’s gay community was large and visible. Studio One was conceived specifically for this set and offered no shortage of mirrored balls (seven to be exact), strobe lights, lasers, a gleaming red neon Pegasus and a fish tank in the men’s room that spouted water for hand washing—though the round sink under the aquarium was often mistaken for a circular communal urinal, a show of its own. Studio One also boasted a party yacht called Pegasus moored in Marina Del Rey. A strutting pinnacle of disco flash, Studio One was consistently packed with celebrities, models and only the sexiest of men.

The club was owned by Scott Forbes, an optometrist to the stars turned party promoter. Forbes had a clear vision for Studio One and quoted in an LA Times interview describes it as being “planned, designed and conceived for gay people, gay male people. Any straight people here are guests of the gay community. This is gay!” With a dance floor that boasted a capacity of 1,000, Studio One was open seven days a week and was constantly packed.

Studio One

Ad from In Touch Magazine.

But Studio One was not only a club, it also hosted benefits and events and began a number of traditions that are still alive today. For example, Forbes felt that Disneyland would be a great place for a gay party. He booked the park in the name of the Los Angeles Bar and Restaurant Association without telling Disney that the majority of association members were gay.

“Once we had the contract signed I invited them to Studio One. That was a little shock for them,” he recalled. The event was a huge success, with 18,000 showing up at Disneyland for the party in 1978. The idea was expanded with trips to Magic Mountain and Knotts Berry Farm. The tradition continues to this day as ‘Gay Days.’”

Studio One

Studio One’s Backlot Cabaret Theatre 1980.

It was during its life as Studio One that The Factory building received historic landmark designation in 1978. It eventually closed in 1988. After this the factory continued to be a club, but took a turn back to its classic nightclub roots when it was bought by lesbian entertainer Linda Gerard. She rechristened it The Rose Tattoo, presumably after the Tennessee Williams play of the same name. The Rose Tattoo was a celebrity filled cabaret, restaurant and piano bar where, as emcee, Gerard would open the evening’s entertainment with a song. In a room swathed with green carpet, mirrored walls and pink tinted art-deco bas-relief, jazz singers and a menagerie of performers crooned away on its many stages.

In 1993, citing exhaustion, Gerard closed The Rose Tattoo and sought out a less stressful entertainment career in Palm Springs, where she still entertains today. At this point the factory passed into the hands of another influential lesbian proprietress, Sandy Sachs. Sachs refurbished The Factory as a dance club, and over the next few decades made it one of the most successful and varied venues in West Hollywood, catering to crowds of all kinds. She sold The Factory in 2010, but it continues to be one of the most successful venues in town with numerous performances, packed club nights and other events.

This big box has had a long and varied life and shows no signs of slowing down. Its caverns are still chopped into useful size pieces and reconfigured whenever the next big thing wants to take a shot. New ideas are constantly coming and going. The bland exterior may rarely change, but with a rich and malleable inner world, The Factory is perhaps West Hollywood’s most dynamic and lively building.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the Factory served as the original location of Koontz Hardware. While Koontz was temporarily housed at the Factory, it was not the original location for the hardware store.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



About Gustave Heully, Design Critic

Gustave Heully is a designer, artist, critic and West Hollywood resident. He has experience as both a designer in LA architecture offices and as an academic, writing about researching and curating exhibitions on architecture, urbanism and design. @GusHeully

View all posts by Gustave Heully, Design Critic →

You might also like:

26 Comments

  1. BCMon, Sep 23, 2013 at 9:24 am

    I don’t believe the Factory is Koontz’s original location, but it was used as a temporary location for Koontz when the original building (where the replacement Koontz stands now) was destroyed by fire.

  2. BCMon, Sep 23, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Also, the business offices for Mitchell Cameras was directly across Robertson from the Factory, in the building that now houses Ariana Rugs. A tour of that building also proves interesting and hold lots of history related to the Factory.

  3. GusMon, Sep 23, 2013 at 10:47 am

    @BC yes, you are correct about it being the “temporary” and not “original” location of Koontz. So many changes happened to this building! One missed word makes all the difference, thanks for the catch, we will correct it.

  4. kab1200Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Studio One did not turn into the Rose Tattoo. I am not sure why you did not talk about the Backlot Cabaret, I saw many many shows there. The Rose Tattoo was on the Robertson side of the buidling, and completely separate. Like in the basement almost. The Backlot was on the Robertson side of the building, and up the stairs, while Studio One was entered from La Peer. It was a truly amazing club and cabaret space.

  5. EdMon, Sep 23, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    While the main entrance for Studio One was the entrance on La Peer, there was also a Robertson entrance (by climbing those numerous stairs).

  6. demanikMon, Sep 23, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    “By 1972 … in trouble with city officials, it did not last long.” There was no city of West
    Hollywood in the ’70s. The officials would have been with the county.

  7. Jerry RTue, Sep 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    The Rose Tattoo restaurant was on the first floor, entered off Robertson, and the Rose Tattoo Cabaret, where Linda performed, was downstairs — but not really a basement.

  8. kab1200Wed, Sep 25, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Jerry R, I did not say it was a basement, but if you think about it, it was like being in a basement, that is what I said and meant.

  9. LA MaverickWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 8:24 am

    When I arrived in 1983, the Rose Tattoo, backlot and the basement cabaret were going strong. We would still see celebs dining at the Rose Tattoo–food was great! Downstairs Cabaret had some of the best jazz singers in town at that time and a great Wednesday stripper night where some of the grandest “older” queens of the city would tip $100 inside an envelope with their business cards. Backlot had the best fun shows, saw Jimmy James when he was in his Marilyn Monroe stage and that crazy drag troup..hilarious…great times..Miss that!!

  10. Franklin AvenueWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Wasn’t this also Luna Park for much of the 90s? Or was that down the street?

  11. Old Club GuyWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    The birthplace of Club Cherry, where Courtney Love stepped on my feet on the dancefloor and the amazing Russell danced.

  12. JohnWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I remember it being Studio One in 1993. And for a while after that, actually.

  13. terrygatesWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I was the designer of the first interior for Studio One… The budget was low so I used all the left over elements of the old decor to create a new look… Scott Forbes was knocked out by the final look of the club. He opened to great reviews and enjoyed, stupendous success for years…

  14. HenryWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I remember it being called AXIS around 1995 and keeping that name for years before becoming The Factory.

  15. jasonWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Thank you Gus for an entertaining and informative article. I’ve been going to the studio one/factory since about 1989….If I remember correctly– the main space on the upper level remained Studio one through the 80′s and into the late 1990′s, (maybe 1998) then transitioned directly into the Factory from there.

  16. bruce liebertWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Check out a better picture of the facade from ’00 on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page. I did the interior with Sandy Sachs when it changed from Axis/Love Lounge to Factory Ultrasuede.

  17. GrantWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    This was so interesting. Great article. I love the history of places I attend around town.

  18. Randy LewisWed, Sep 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    What a great article…I worked there when it first opened…I was 21. I had gotten an invitation to the Grand Opening, but I was in school in Indiana. Later that summer I went out and was wearing the gym shorts and tank top of Studio One as a waiter. There were lines to get in on a Monday… nothing like it…

  19. Kim PaulsonThu, Sep 26, 2013 at 1:06 am

    I first entered Studio One in the mid 70′s into the 80′s. My idea was to dance, get drunk and or hi, pick-up, etc. The tail of the red neon pegasus resembled a man dick. My friend Raul Castro and i would enter with chap and vest and dance together and others would join in with us, The floor was packed, you had to make room. Their was a bartender: Mike who died after the place closed which I was sad to here. I also was entertained in the Back Lot with Gothum, Dafney Davis and others Most of first floor was a warehouse for a designer- Philys … . In the mid 80′s, Aids forced an issue so many gay men stopped going out, the attendance was low. But their was nothing like Studio One, then and now. I still have the T-shirt w/green lettering but it is a small, can’t wear it. I’m 60 now so I do not go out much. The Gay Men’s Chorus Of Los Angeles had
    a garage sale and sang a few time also.

  20. Kim PaulsonWed, Oct 02, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Phyllis Morris had her design warehouse on the first floor below Studio One. She had 2 signs, one on the east end facing north the other west end facing south on the top cornor of the second 2nd floor. Someone told me that Phyllis least
    the top floor to Forbes but I do not know if that is true.

  21. Paul EdgarTue, Oct 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Phyllis was married to Nate, whom owned the building and the building that is now Club “ONE” across the street on Robertson. Yes Rose Tatoo was not the same space Studio One was, but became LUNA PARK as someone stated here. Also the transition was from STUDIO ONE, to AXIS, to THE FACTORY. The back was THE BACKLOT, to LOVE LOUNGE to ULTRA SUEDE.

  22. kab1200Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Good job Paul, very concise!

  23. George TannehillThu, Oct 31, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Yep, you had Studio One and the adjacent Backlot (where people like Joan Rivers and Waylan Flowers entertained); those club were entered from La Peer or by going up the stairs in the parking lot. The stairs on the Robertson side could also be used. The Rose Tattoo was a restaurant at street level, same building, and the cabaret could be entered from the restaurant or through another entrance in the parking lot. The cabaret featured singers like Roslyn Kind.

  24. Vincent TozziSat, Nov 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I always wondered why there wasn’t more chat about The Factory owned by Ron Buck, Peter Lawford and the others. I worked there as a bartender/waiter. When I went for the interview, Michael Carter, the hiring Manager told me that he was ordered to hire 40 “groovy” looking servers. He was told, “They can come from a modeling agency.” Our work outfits were bell bottom blue jeans, light blue jail shirts, red bandanas tied around our neck, white tennis shoes and white socks. At each plate setting was a silver metal liner with Factory written on it. The “F” was a wrench. It was a private club for Hollywood elite. It cost $1,000 per year to join. Members all had charge accounts. They simply signed their names to the checks and we servers brought the check to a cashier and received a 15% tip. Many guests left additional tips. It was not unusual to earn $200. or $300. per night. Chef Broulard from France was the Chef. At the entrance was a scroll in glass, with a list of all the royalty and famous people he had served. Playboy Bunnies were given free membership and a few bunnies worked as waitresses, including Mother Jeanette who, at the time, wrote a marijuana cookbook. It was star studded. There was a great band, The Gordian Knot, but it was not unusual for Sammy Davis or Ike and Tina Turner to perform. I served the Beatles, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, the Mamas and Papas, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Lucille Ball, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood, and many others. On Academy Award night, shining Oscars sat on tables, including Rod Steiger’s. Mia Farrow, who was married to Sinatra at the time, partied with Tina Sinatra. Joan Collins was married to Anthony Newley and paraded around in sequined mini-skirts and a long braid down her back. Diana Ross and other celebrities danced freely without having to worry about fans bothering them. Eddie Fisher gave a birthday party for a young Connie Stevens. He slipped me $200. additional tip. Robert & Ethyl Kennedy sat with Shirley McLaine, Tommy Smothers, Andy Williams and Claudine. The guys drank beer. At the end of the night, Mr. Smothers handed me an extra $100. bill. Sammy D. Jr. was also known for extra $100. tips. Ron Buck danced with Judy Carne, the sock-it-to-me-girl. Goldie Hawn and other Saturday Night Live cast members dined and danced often. Sonny & Cher arrived in matching blue satin outfits with ruffles on the neck and sleeves. Jackie Gleason knocked back two scotches at a time. There is much more to tell but I’ll leave you with this thought. The servers and musicians smoked weed on the roof. Many times world famous celebrities joined us.

  25. RichMon, Dec 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    The original writer really needs to correct so many errors in the article as others have pointed out. The whole 90′s history is pretty wrong. Studio One continued to exist far long than the writer claimed, and as others said, because Axis, then the Factory. And the Robertson side was Backlot to Love Lounge to Ultra Suede. I’ve been to and been involved in promotions at both the La Peer & Robertson venues since the early 90s, often on an almost weekly basis. I guess the writer was not around back then and didn’t check his facts well. Luna Park BTW is now Robertson (where Rasputin is held) since others are asking about it. At one point it was called Apple. It is the building immediately to the right of Ultra Suede on the Robertson side.

  26. Brian HamiltonWed, Apr 02, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks for the informative article, and to everyone for the comments. In the early 90s, I went to the Hollywood Boys Club, via the entrance on LaPeer. I used to have a plastic membership card.

Leave a Comment

ADVERTISEMENT
dailyFix Newsletter Signup
ADVERTISEMENT