The U.S. National Park Service has decided that The Factory building on West Hollywood’s Robertson Boulevard is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Its eligibility is based on the fact that it was home from 1929 to 1946 to the Mitchell Camera Co., manufacturer of Hollywood film equipment, and from 1974 to 1993 to Studio One, the gay nightclub.
In a post on its Facebook page, the West Hollywood Heritage Project said: “This is a fantastic thing for the Motion Picture industry and its historians. And a HISTORIC and MONUMENTAL thing for the gay and lesbian community and its historians.”
Putting the building on the National Register bolsters arguments of local preservationists that it should be preserved. There is, however, no other significant advantage other than making the building eligible for federal tax credits for preservation efforts and requiring that a study be conducted before any federal funds could be spent on demolishing it.
Jason Illoulian of Faring Capital has developed plans for a project called Robertson Lane on The Factory site that will include a hotel with more than 250 rooms, underground parking with more than 1,000 spaces and cafes and small retail spaces. The project also will include a 30- to 35-foot-wide lane providing a visual and physical connection between Robertson Boulevard and La Peer. Illoulian has committed to preserving and restoring most of The Factory building and integrating it into the Robertson Lane project. In response to news of the Park Service decision, Illoulian said: “Our plans remain the same, and we look forward to restoring the building.”
The building, located at 665 N. Robertson Blvd., south of Santa Monica, currently serves as a venue for nightlife events. It is an industrial building built in 1929 to house the Mitchell Camera Corporation, whose cameras enabled films to go from silent to “talkies,” and continued to influence camera technology until the digital era arrived in the early 2000s. Following Mitchell’s move to the suburbs in 1946, The Factory was used variously as a cosmetics warehouse, a furniture showroom, a celebrity nightclub, an antique market and an experimental theatre.
Studio One, a gay disco, opened in The Factory in 1974 and drew celebrities such as Patti LaBelle, Joan Rivers and Liza Minnelli along with as many as 1,000 gay men. Preservation activists have cited what some see as the Factory’s importance in gay history. The Heritage Project has said it will be the first West Coast LGBTQ property on the National Register.”
Optometrist Scott Forbes, who opened Studio One at The Factory, said it “was planned, designed and conceived for… gay male people. Any straight people here are guests of the gay community!”
While many in the gay community see Studio One as historic, others have criticized it as a prominent example of bigotry among gay white men. In an op-ed for WEHOville, Don Kilhefner called out what he called its “Jim Crow admission policy. West Hollywood then was a white enclave with a checkered race relations history, particularly when people of color tried to rent there. Forbes wanted gay, white men as his preferred customers at Studio One and, with his racist and sexist beliefs, he thought gay blacks and women would drive them away.”
“Studio One doormen subjected African-Americans to a different admission requirement than whites, echoing Jim Crow. White men did not have to show age/photo ID if doormen knew them and one piece if he didn’t, a driver’s license sufficing. African-American men had to show two pieces of age/photo ID, a driver’s license alone was insufficient. … The ID scam was also used on women. In addition, they were barred on the spot by what they were wearing, like suddenly open-toe shoes were prohibited, too short shorts not allowed, long-sleeve blouses forbidden, and so the unwinnable sexist charade would continue.”