Historic Preservationists Mount Campaign to Save the Factory

The  Factory on Robertson Boulevard (Photo: Los Angles Times, 1929)
The Factory on Robertson Boulevard (Photo: Los Angles Times, 1929)

Historic preservationists are banding together to oppose plans to demolish the Factory building on Robertson Boulevard and replace it with a hotel and shops called Robertson Lane.

The Dead History Project, an organization created by Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney, has created a Facebook page called Save the Factory to promote preservation of the building. The Los Angeles Conservancy has expressed its concerns about the proposed demolition in a letter to the West Hollywood Community Development Department. The Conservancy is asking that the Factory building be incorporated into plans for Robertson Lane. Both organizations mounted a campaign last year to save a Streamline Moderne-style building at 9080 Santa Monica Blvd. that will be demolished for the Melrose Triangle Project. The West Hollywood City Council approved the project, but the L.A. Conservancy has filed suit in L.A. Superior Court arguing that the city has not complied with state law requiring an assessment of the project’s impact on the environment, which includes an assessment of the 9080 building’s cultural and historical significance.

The Factory building was constructed in 1929 as the manufacturing plant for Mitchell Cameras, which supplied cameras to the nascent motion picture industry. After World War II it went through several evolutions, and in 1967 became an elite nightclub called “The Factory.” That club closed in 1972. In 1975 Scott Forbes, a gay optometrist, opened a club called Studio One in the building during the height of the disco era. Studio One, Forbes said, “was planned, designed and conceived for gay people, gay male people. Any straight people here are guests of the gay community. This is gay!” Studio One closed in 1988. The building has housed numerous other venues, including the “Axis” club that helped make Sandy Sachs a lesbian icon, and has served as home to nights such as “Rasputin” and “Ultra Suede.” An effort to have it designated a cultural resource was rejected by the City Council in 1995.

Both Dead History Project and the L.A. Conservancy cite the Factory’s history as a manufacturing center for motion picture equipment and a center of gay nightlife in arguing that it be preserved and incorporated into the Robertson Lane project.

Robertson Lane is a project of Jason Illoulian’s Faring Capital. Illoulian’s partner in the project is the Goller family, which shares with the the Illoulian family a long history in West Hollywood. Nate Goller, an attorney, is the husband of Phyllis Morris, founder of Phyllis Morris Originals and one of the more distinctive furniture designers from 1950 until her death in 1988. Their daughter, Jamie Adler, now runs Phyllis Morris with her husband Jonathan, and their flagship is situated next to the Factory. Goller was a partner with Sandy Sachs in the Factory / Ultra Suede club that opened in the building in 2000.

Robertson Lane would replace the Factory with a hotel with more than 250 rooms, underground parking with more than 1,000 spaces and small cafes and small retail spaces that Illoulian says will be “curated” to ensure a variety of interesting shopping experiences. Illoulian proposes a 30- to 35-foot-wide lane through the Robertson Lane building, providing a pedestrian walkway between Robertson Boulevard and LaPeer.

The city currently is at work on a draft environmental impact statement that will consider, among other things, the possible historic or cultural significance of the Factory building. The project likely will go before the Historic Preservation Commission, the Design Review Subcommittee and the Planning Commission before being presented to the City Council for its approval.

Rendering of Robertson Lane Hotel as seen from Robertson Boulevard. (Architect Hodgetts + Fung)
Rendering of proposed Robertson Lane project as seen from Robertson Boulevard. (Architect Hodgetts + Fung)

  1. @Roy: please turn back the clock on the awareness of the preservationists that all have their fave structures. Attempting to continually turn back the development clock at the eleventh hour is tantamount to tilting at windmills. I’m w you in sentiment but can we please be practical?

    1. Gotcha Lynn but the city of West Hollywood is at fault for not conducting historic building surveys. Can you believe they actually claim poverty with nearly 100M in the general fund?!
      That leaves it up to us–overworked volunteers who care about our history.

      1. Hi Roy, private vitizens can do more than they think they can. If everyone in WHPA nominated just one building a piece before it was threatened w potential development, you’d be ahead of the wrecking ball. Could be part of an incentive program.

  2. JJ by incorporating The Dr. Jones Cat & Dog Hospital, for example, into the master plan for the Melrose Triangle does nothing to inhibit the development on the site. Same for other large developments in Weho. Your argument is specious at best.

  3. It’s always…”we are not against development…” They just never find a development they don’t have a problem with. This is an old factory built long ago for a purpose that is long since gone. Put up a plaque, take a picture..move on. We’re a very small City with very little space. This space could do so much more for the community and in the end, I believe this site will be cleared of the old structures and new life will emerge on this site. Time will tell.

  4. There are many criteria that determine whether or not a building is historic – the way it looks is not the only criteria. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people (including us) think it’s hot!

  5. I first want to recall many happy years dancing to at the Factory and before that Studio One. The Hollywood and gay history of the site is very historical and important but the building itself is not architectural outstanding and in my opinion should be demolished. Whatever buildings replaces it should bring a reference to its historical past in some kind of visibility through educational or sculptural display. I could see replacing it with structures that would accommodate a hotel and stores especially being so close to the bars and restaurants in that part of town and create a revenue producing site. Also I would like to see some avenue for creative expression in a structure for the performing arts , like a live theater that would showcase professional and local talents.

  6. Let me add that we are not against development. There is always a way to incorporate historic structures into new design. And I think the majority of the people behind us feel the same way.

  7. I’m sorry Kate, but I’m sure there are a ton of old buildings that can claim some sort of “famed history” (as weak as you’ve outlined) or some sort of MILDLY famous tenant, but I’m still not swayed that this old camera factory is worth saving. It’s time and purpose have passed. The newly proposed structure will benefit the City far more then this old factory. It is NOT an iconic or history structure worthy of saving. LET. IT. GO.

  8. Historic preservation is not determined by opinion but instead by facts. There are different criterion that historic preservation follows – to put it simply it could be the architecture that makes it significant or specific events in history that make it significant. (To learn more, google criterion A, B, C, D)

    Here are some facts about The Factory that make it historically significant-
    -Mitchell Camera built the factory in 1929 and was there until they moved to Glendale in 1946.
    -By 1940, Mitchell Camera shot 80% of motion picture films wordwide.
    -The cameras made at the West Hollywood factory made such films like Citizen Kane, Wuthering Heights, DeMille’s Cleopatra, Of Human Bondage, and the list goes on and on since all the major film studios used Mitchell Cameras.
    -A Mitchell camera made at the West Hollywood factory filmed the atomic bomb tests done in Los Alamos.
    -In the mid 1970s, Scott Forbes turned the factory into Studio One – a club for gays, by gays – “Studio One was planned, designed and conceived for gay people, gay male people,” Forbes told the LA Times. “Any straight people here are guests of the gay community. This is gay!”
    -Before the time of Studio One, gays were on the outside of society and wanted in; at Studio One gays were on the inside and society wanted in.
    -Scott Forbes was responsible for Disneyland’s First Gay Day.

    I could go on but I think this makes my point.

    To read more about the history and future updates, please visit http://www.facebook.com/SavetheFactoryWestHollywood

  9. The only thing historic about the factory is the amount of cocaine that has passed through that building. #tearItdown

  10. OMG Lynn, as much as I love Knootz (I don’t know what I’d do if it left down) you can’t go and save/nominate every old building! (and you can’t nominate(?) a business..that’s ridiculous).
    If change never happened, the people of this city would still be living in mud huts and pulling plows and it wouldn’t be called West Hollywood.

  11. This structure does not merit historic preservation. Why is it that every time a development is proposed a small but very vocal group comes out screaming SAVE! SAVE! SAVE!. This is an old dump of a building. It has no architectural significance…AT. ALL. Let it go. Let’s revitalize this area by taking this run down structure and surface parking lot and replace it will a structure that will create a new, vibrate place for people to shop, eat and play and stay. It will also generate more tax revenue for the City that will help by for City services for the poor, elderly and the rest of us! Trying to save an old structure because it was a great place to dance on a Saturday night (I myself have very fond memories of AXIS-which use to be in the Factory space) is not reason enough to save the structure. That’s sentimentality, not historical significance. LET IT GO.

  12. My one and only concern is the traffic. Robertson is tighter than a gnat’s a… Personally, I could care less if the building is torn down. However, I do have fond memories of Studio One, having been a regular from 1978 thru the mid-80’s.
    Rush-hour traffic through the SMB and Robertson Blvd intersection is a major pain. And, since there are major developments in the pipeline already for this neighborhood, things will get worse. Try getting out of the Pavilion parking lot at 5:30 PM. Keith Ave, to the north can be bumper-to-bumper going east towards Robertson when there is heavier-than-usual traffic on SMB or Sunset.

  13. Quick, we need to nominate Kootz Hardware before it disappears. It’s a virtual museum and irreplaceable institution and if and when it goes without designation no one in this town will be able to find a nut amongst the bolts.

  14. What about having Adaptive Reuse Competitions for redesign of these unique older buildings? Someday all the warehouse buildings of infinitely varied design east of La Brea that house so many creative enterprises, will be gone unless folks recognize that industry brought them and continue to use them. So many other cities “get that” and continue to repurpose and therefore continue a continuity and sense of place. Isn’t sense of place what most folks relate to?

    Only in this disposable centric atmosphere do we believe that everything must go and mostly substandard trendy stuff grows in its place. People with no past or sense of history move in and spend exorbitant sums for what? With that concept, we should banish most of Europe and pave it over. Well at least we would have a place to send most of the mediocre architects that seem to keep popping up in West Hollywood. like weeds.

  15. Yes…let’s tear down all the iconic gay structures in Weho and put up hotels. It will be brilliant to have $400 a night hotels for people to visit Koontz Hardware.

  16. It’s an eyesore and a disgrace to the street. Decide what is best for development according to normal procedures, but don’t use this nonsense to try to block it. There are buildings in the city worth fighting for. Using this as a battle debases future arguments for legitmative preservation.

  17. What a dump! Take it down. I support anything that goes there that will boost the economy, beautify the area and revitalize Robertson/Almont into a thriving part of this area. The affinity and romantic idea’s that The Factory must be saved I don’t get. As a historic??? drug-den of by-gone years. Look the building is ugly and that area is prime for today and for the future to become a new iconic landmark that actually gives West Hollywood and residents places to go, things to do, people to meet…

  18. The Factory is hideous, move along and save something actually worth saving. This is such a waste of time and resources. Really, now we are trying to save useless warehouses? Come on, if you really want to save this place, then go there and frequent the unsuccessful businesses that take up shop, one busy night a week is not a success to the area or for the community.

  19. we should ask the candidates for city council for their thoughts on saving or demolishing The Factory

  20. More of our LGBT locations under attack by out of town real estate speculators trying to buy away our city for another mega development. Thank god people are fighting them. Save the factory from being bulldozed for ANOTHER Hotel.This development isn’t sensitive to the area its in which is the main night life gay area. Its just another move by developers to make as much money as they can on the weho monopoly board, with city hall and our councils permission.. Besides that here is another building with Historic quality’s that is being dismissed by some as in the way in #weho’s future. What is #wehos future if we continue to allow the removal of it. The Bohdi Tree is gone, great hall long hall in plummer park is still not been resolved, the stream line modern dog and cat hospital is in the way of the mega box Melrose triangle project. Palms is gone, the different light book store is gone. The spike got turned into a primarily straight venue place, which is fine, but it was a part of our gay collection of meeting places. The bottom line shouldn’t be the deciding factor in wehos future. Many feel we need to respect its gay roots, history of rent control and affordable housing and its unique charm as an Urban Village. Urban village meaning it doesn’t look like Wiltshire blvd in Brentwood with Mega development on both sides And again here is an effort to put more density smack in the middle of weho which is already taxed with the size roads it has. Is the planning commission in denial along with the city council about what more density does to the traffic? And yes like Melrose triangle there will be lots of parking proposed in this, but all those cars entering and exiting will be the grid lock. We need new faces and stewards of our city on the planning commission and out city council, before its to late to stop the trade up of real estate lots to as much density as they can get away with. Our long term council members along with some our our planning commision has said yes over and over again to unsustainable forced density.

  21. I’m not one for unnecessary preservation but I do think that the Factory merits protection. The building does have unique scale and design qualifications. You just do not see this sort of preserved 1930s manufacturing industrial buildings anywhere in the Hollywood area. It is also a well utilized building, not like the Streamline Modern building that was mostly vacant and crumbling, the Factory is fully leased and has several popular tenants. It is odd how this building is not protected yet a small dilapidated shack that sells hamburgers was.

  22. Preservation of The Factory building in West Hollywood is so important. Its a rare landmark, an element in LGBT history and an anchor in West Hollywood. Because of the size of the building it is a perfect candidate for reuse. It could be a wonderful compromise reduce new construction while allowing development and growth.
    In 10 years it would be wonderful to look at what we saved then look back at what we lost.
    Please help save the The Factory. Tell your friends and become involved in the campaign before its to late. We need your help.

  23. The Factory is an eyesore. While I’m sad to lose the club space in the city, the development of a hotel will cause the least amount of traffic impact and will make a very ugly area a nice place to live near (which we do).

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