Opinion: History Disappearing on La Peer

648 N. La Peer Drive (The Factory) is a 3.5-story industrial building in the Utilitarian style built in 1929 by the Mitchell Camera Corporation, which grew to dominate the camera industry in Hollywood. From 1967 to 1971 it was The Factory, a nightclub popular with celebrities. In 1974 it became the disco Studio One, an epicenter for gay nightlife and activism.

A bit of local history could slip away next Monday Night

That’s when the City Council is scheduled to consider the Robertson Lane hotel and retail project.

A lot has been written about this project and the changes proposed to the Factory building, which housed the former Studio One. I hope the hotel workers get the best deal possible. And in an ideal world, the money would be in place to rework the existing building at its current location.

But regarding what’s on the table right now – it’s not half bad. I don’t live in West Hollywood – with respect to this project my interests concern LGBT historic commemoration. In Silver Lake, my efforts involved the Black Cat and Mattachine Steps.

The team at Faring, the project’s developer, was receptive when I contacted them. Because this site is a cultural resource and extensive changes are being proposed, “mitigations” are required to reduce any negative impacts those changes might have on the historic character. The initial historical account of the site, contained in the draft environmental impact report, glossed over the discriminatory admission policy at the Studio One club. The final EIR includes a mitigation that requires oral histories to be taken — “including the stories of discrimination and restrictive door policies enforced at Studio One…”

Regarding the door policy, there was a prominent sign at the entrance to Studio One, stating that three forms of photo identification were required for entry. Observation proved that this was enforced selectively and used to exclude men of color, women, and those exhibiting non-traditional gender expression. A little-known fact is that in February 1985 the new City Council passed a groundbreaking ordinance outlawing this practice.

When I saw the wording of this mitigation, I was relieved. But when the project came up before West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s representative was asked whether the relocated building (see below) would still be eligible for National Register listing. His response was equivocal. That got me thinking about whether anything important was being lost.

Looking at the documents, my conclusion was yes – the project as proposed basically erases the presence of the disco building from the La Peer Drive frontage. In order to make room for the new hotel, the existing building will be dismantled, shortened, and rotated 90 degrees when it is re-installed. The new location will have it running along Robertson, in contrast to the current set up in which it runs the width of the block from La Peer to Robertson.

The La Peer frontage is especially significant with respect to Studio One. The much earlier Mitchell Camera had an entrance on Robertson. The straight-oriented Factory Disco, dating from the 1960s, also had an entrance on Robertson. (The Factory has been rumored to be Robert Kennedy’s intended next stop after his appearance at his victory celebration at the Ambassador Hotel in June 1968).

But the line for Studio One, which opened in 1974, formed along La Peer. That was where the large sign was hung requiring three forms of picture ID. This certainly generated its own level of selective anxiety. But along with that was the excitement and anticipation of everyone waiting to go in. All of this made for a memorable space.

Bringing this concern to Faring, we came up with the idea for a line of brass footsteps, running parallel to the street, to evoke the presence of those waiting in that line. It’s certainly possible that a better idea will come up to commemorate the entry space – but the basic concept is that a physical marker is needed along La Peer.

I’ve been told that when the project has been presented to individual City Council members the footsteps have been mentioned. But for whatever reason, there has been a reluctance on the part of Faring and City Hall staffers to include a written requirement for that as part of the approval. Projects go over budget. And entitled sites get sold. Oral assurances and handshakes (I have one from Jason Illoulian for which I’m grateful) only go so far.

If this strikes a chord, please write the City Council members at council@weho.org. Tell them you’re concerned about all traces of Studio One being removed from La Peer. Ask for a physical marker. If you like the idea for the footsteps, mention that too. Do this as soon as possible. Thank you. Wes Joe


4 Comments
  1. May I recommend Alois Riegl’s classic essay ‘‘The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Origin’’ (1903) in which these issues of historic preservation within the march of “progress” and “time” are addressed? Yes, just because something is “old” or “full of memories” does not merit that it be preserved. But should an ostensibly ugly factory building (ugly to whom?) not be allowed to blend into a more modern aesthetic built around it with new uses found for such living “relics”? What is the future of such commercial “development” that encases surgically altered historic structures in unreliable projections of profit-making enterprise? When this new project is complete and becomes an empty alley of tourist shops bound to fail in the next recession what will the “new” Factory’s next and future use be?

  2. I really think people need to learn to let go and move on. There’s real historically significant buildings both in the activity that took place there and the building’s architectural significance.
    The activity/activities that took place there were impactful to the community but it’s main function was a dance club. Yes, it made the cameras that were used to film the Wizard of Oz. But geez. Do you know how many buildings in LA has some connection to the film industry and other important films? The building itself has ZERO significance architecturally. Zero. It was a factory built with spit and glue -done on the cheap and if anyone from that time was still alive, they’d be laughing at us that we’re debating whether or not to keep the old factory standing. The world is constantly changing. It has to or we’d all still be living in mud huts hunting for our dinner. The fact that the developer wants to save any part of this old structure is amazing. We say thank you. Let’s now move on and in a few years we’ll enjoy all the benefits this project will bring to the neighborhood….of which I live in. Thanks.

    1. I would bypass your history, and in this one case, I see absolutely NO ARCHICTECTURAL OR HISTORIC significance. An old wearhouse built on the cheap when WEHO was not a city, but an unincorporated parcel in LA County – common for the ability to place needed but undesirable to homeowners, all kinds of factories/repairs/storage etc..

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