Hotel Workers Union Launches Petition to Block Robertson Lane Project

An illustration of the Robertson Lane project with the Factory building in the foreground (Hodgetts + Fung Architects)

Unite Here Local 11, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, has launched a petition drive opposing a plan to integrate the Factory on Robertson Boulevard into the Robertson Lane hotel and retail complex.

Faring, the developer of the Robertson Lane project, plans to renovate a little more than half of the Factory building and acknowledge it as the location of Studio One, a well-known gay nightclub in the 1970s and into the early 1990s, and as the original home of Mitchell Camera Company, which was located there from 1929 to 1946.

The union opposes the recognition of Studio One, claiming the gay club discriminated against women and African-American men. In a press release announcing the petition drive, the union notes that Don Kilhefner, an LGBT historian, has been critical of the project and how it portrays the history of Studio One. “Kilhefner and other activists have criticized the project for ‘whitewashing’ the nightclub’s more controversial history and failing to take a proactive role in combating ongoing racism and sexism in the hospitality industry,” says the announcement.

“While Studio One famously held some of the country’s first AIDS fundraisers, it was also the site of vocal protest against the club’s discriminatory admission policy. The club allegedly required extra identification from female and African American patrons at the door.

“This project should be learning from the site’s history, not sanitizing it and allowing the mistakes of the past to endure”, said Kilhefner, who was a co-founder of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front. Kilhefner called out Studio One’s history in an op-ed published in WEHOville in August 2016.

Faring agreed to preserve part of the Factory building after a campaign by local preservation activists that called out Studio One’s role in West Hollywood’s gay history and the history of Mitchell Camera Company.

“Faring Capital’s project offers a sanitized version of Studio One’s troubled history,” said Elle Farmer, research analyst with Unite Here Local 11. “We want the project to acknowledge its problematic past and take meaningful steps to ensure its future workforce is diverse and treated with dignity, respect and fairness.”

In contrast to United Here’s claim, Faring has said that it actually does plan to call out both the positive and negative aspects of the Factory’s history. In an environmental impact report submitted to the city as part of its application for approval of Robertson Lane, Faring states its intention to put together an oral history project  “addressing the history and varied experiences of visiting the nightclub.” It also plans an “on-site interpretation and commemoration of the building’s significant association with LGBTQ history, culture and equality in West Hollywood.”

Faring has gotten support for its plans from Charles Stewart, the first co-chair of the National Association of Black & White Men Together (BWMT), which was founded in 1980. In a statement submitted to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, Stewart, who is African-American, said he had met with Faring “to discuss their plans for the Studio One history project. “I am thus far encouraged by both their willingness and thoughtfulness in addressing the concerns I and other members of the community have raised about preserving and sharing the civil rights struggle which is an integral and important part of history…”

Wes Joe, a gay activist with the Asian-American Pacific Islanders group, also supported the plans at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting. “I’m thankful Studio One’s complicated history, including its discriminatory admissions policies, have been explicitly addressed in the [Robertson Lane] mitigations,” he said in a document submitted to the Commission.

In an apparent justification for its campaign, Unite Here’s announcement says the hotel industry is guilty of “replacing black workers with non-black employees and paying women and people of color less than their white male colleagues.”

United Here itself has come under criticism for lobbying to exempt hotels with a unionized staff from having to pay the minimum wages for hotel workers established in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Santa Monica.  Such union exemptions do not have to meet state and federal pay standards and are alleged to make hotel owners more receptive to unionization of their employees.

“West Hollywood City Council will vote on the proposed project in the coming months,” says the United Here announcement. “While activists are hopeful the City Council will act, volunteers in red t-shirts are already out gathering signatures and are prepared to call for a referendum.”

United Here’s Andrew Cohen said the union hopes enough West Hollywood residents will sign the petition so that, if the City Council gives the project final approval, United Here can put a measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot to block the Council’s decision. Doing that would require signatures of 10% of the city’s 26,000 registered voters.

  1. I had to read this twice to make sure I hadn’t missed something the first time.

    This is absolutely absurd! I hate bullies, and unions are bullies.

    If I never hear the word “diversity” again I’ll be a happy man.

  2. I believe this club represents an important part the history of the LGBT community in WeHo, LA, and beyond; both good and bad. The cloud of racist, sexist, & ableist policies was the norm in that era for str8 and gay clubs. In fact, discrimination still plagues our community (something which I experience firsthand) and West Hollywood continues to have a reputation for such behavior. In spite of all this, the club did represent a safe space for many members of our community in a time when we were not free to be ourselves in public.

    Further, the club’s current incarnation is known for its inclusiveness. We should not ignore this fact when judging its historic value.

  3. There is something nefarious about Unite Here Local 11, out-of-character, approach to stall the Roberson Lane Project.

    I want this project, residents want this project, and now, out-of-the-blue, Unite Here Local 11 is trying to halt this much endorsed and accepted project.

    What is the real reasons???

    Afraid they will have to pay a living wage? Maybe the Union does not want to loose any share of market?

    Competition is good for workers (I am very pro union), the economy, choices in amenities and locations, so many positives to the Robertson Lane and the hospitality community.

    1. I find a disconnect between being pro-union and appreciating competition. Unions pretty much eliminate competition.

  4. Ordinarly I’m a strong union supporter, but this move is ridiculous. The community fought hard to get the developer to preserve as much of the Factory that is salvageable. The building is significant for more than being the Factory nightclub and Studio One. It dates back to the early Hollywood film industry and the company that manufactured widely used motion picture cameras in what began as an actual factory building. The union activists should direct their energy towards a goal that will actually benefit the workers they represent and not waste everyone’s time.

  5. Unite Here doesn’t even pay their union members minimum wage? And they now want to make demands in Weho? Are they not aware that there is a living wage requirement here? Unite Here should go fight their battles in areas where cities don’t enforce living wages!

  6. It is clear that Robertson Lane will represent all parts of Studio One’s history…the good and the bad (racism). I don’t see what this has to do with a hotel workers union. It doesn’t make sense and I don’t see what they are after

  7. If the activists who were actually at Studio One back then support the Robertson Lane project that is good enough for me!

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