The Sheriff ordered a 10 p.m, curfew for the Sunset Strip, the Whisky a Go Go considered changing its name to the non-alcohol associative “Whisk,” and rumors circulated that Jack Nicholson was one of the protesters that helped shut down the Strip to traffic as kids swarmed the famous street. Authorities were on edge, fearing a repeat of what they said were 1,000 young club goers “rioting” there.
If only the Sunset Strip could have that kind of notoriety today, a half century after those events sparked news headlines. Now it is the home to what the City of West Hollywood’s Economic Development Department calls four “clusters” of business interests: Music, Entertainment, Dining and Hotels. The rock and roll Sunset Strip has become not only tamed, but lamed, with an edge that has been substantially dulled.
Once it had been a ground zero playground for the counterculture’s Baby Boomers, who rocked and rolled into history as teens and twenty-somethings, marked by the “Pandora’s Box Riot” of Nov. 12, 1966. But over time the Sunset Strip stakeholders have seen newer generations of partiers find other places to play, like the emerging Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz nexus of hipster music, dining and club scenes. Downtown LA is also getting its share of what had been a Strip-centric audience.
Before the Summer of Love, the Monterey Pop Festival or Woodstock, before Dylan went electric, the Sunset Strip was the coolest, hippest place in town. It was a favorite destination for party goers, the place where a creative culture, centered heavily on a music scene that would help define Los Angeles, was incubated. It even had an eponymous TV show, “77 Sunset Strip,” running from 1958 to 1964.
The Sunset Strip enjoyed decades of fame and notoriety from its glamorous and substantial rock and roll history, but it has been on a downward trajectory as a cultural lodestar, even though the EDD reports that hotel “bed taxes” (Transient Occupancy Tax) accounted for almost $20 million in revenue to the city last year. But, hotel stay overs are not what has made the Strip famous, no matter how much revenue they bring to the city. A bed is a bed, but there’s only one Sunset Strip to experience.
How to return vitality and relevance to the Sunset Strip, and bring people back to hang out there? How to make it a “destination”, again? That is the subject of a Dec. 18 City of West Hollywood Sunset Strip Report (which can be viewed online here) that recommended to the City Council that making a “marketing plan” and having a “vision” would help, and they are right. Fortunately, they have lots to work with. A very key asset is one of the potentially greatest, evocative brand names: “The Sunset Strip.” They need to effectively work it, by defining and distilling the essence of “what is” the Sunset Strip.
In an era where brands can motivate behavioral decisions, the Sunset Strip could be seen as having real resonance, livened up by injecting a shot of the future into the Strip. Understanding, articulating and maximizing its brand will take a think tank of creativity and imagination. It’s a task well suited to, and would benefit from being led by, the creative entrepreneurs that run the music scene, and the restaurateurs that survive by the patronage of their customers, supported by the implementation of the solid infrastructure improvements—stuff the city understands—recommended in the report reviewed by the City Council at its Dec. 18 meeting.
Separating visioning responsibilities for “content” (the essence of the Strip) and “process” (a city-led review of upgrading the parking, streamlining special events permitting, building a fiber optic ring, and other infrastructure improvements) may be helpful.
There’s a history of star making, of being discovered on the Sunset Strip. Nowhere else in Los Angeles can you dream the Sunset Strip dream. It’s time for that aspiration to be reactivated. In a pop culture that uses the Mama’s & the Papas choraling about “California dreaming” to get us buy lottery tickets, it’s not a stretch to think the “mood” can be set to attract “Sunset Strip dreamers” honoring the ghosts of the past and the opportunities of the future. Robert Louis Stevenson was right when he unwittingly became a leader in advertising and marketing theory by saying, as a travel book author circa 1875, that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” or, what a Taoist may express by saying “the journey is the reward.”
The vibe, the history, the hope and expectation of fun, fermented by good food, drink, music and entertainment, is the reward for coming to the Strip, starting with the locals. The Strip is finding no love at home. It has become a backwater for WeHo residents, with only 11% of them, in a city survey, saying that they even visited the Strip, which is right in their own backyard, a part of their city. Walkability and safety, along with clean streets and sidewalks, also factor into the environment and may help attract the Strip’s WeHo neighbors, and others, according to the report.
The house almost always wins in Vegas, but that didn’t stop 43 million visitors from going there last year to be part of the “Vegas” brand and vibe. They poured into the casinos to fulfill their aspirations: dreams of making it big while having a good time along the way, usually knowing they will break even or lose, but that can never get in the way of the aspirational drive that fuels so many lives.
The Strip can also pack this type of emotional payoff. If it aspires to greatness, again, driven by creativity, again, chances are it will succeed.