Commission Affirms the Historic Status of the Whisky

With a unanimous vote on Monday night, West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission granted historic status to the famed Whisky a Go Go building on the Sunset Strip.

The Whisky a Go Go (Pinterest)

Located at 8901 Sunset Blvd., at San Vicente, the two-story art-deco Whisky building was constructed in 1923, one of the first commercial buildings on what would become the Sunset Strip. It originally housed real estate offices and later various banks. In 1963, it opened as a nightclub called The Party, a private club for women, but soon went out of business. 

Elmer Valentine, a Chicago cop with mob ties who moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, took over the lease and transformed it into the Whisky a Go Go. Inspired by trip to France where he saw many young people dancing in French discotheques, Valentine wanted to replicate that dance club here. The Whisky opened in January 1964, triggering the beginning of the Strip’s association with rock and roll. 

The Whisky became known worldwide, showcasing many emerging musical acts including the Who, the Byrds, the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Aerosmith, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Blondie and the Go-Gos. In 1966, the Doors served as the Whisky’s house band before hitting the big time. 

The club famously featured a DJ booth suspended from the ceiling. In the mid 1960s when one of the female DJs started dancing in the booth between sets, the crowd responded positively, so Valentine added two more suspended cages for dancers. One of those dancers designed the official go-go girl costume featuring a fringed dress and white boots, setting off the go-go craze. 

Because of its association with significant events in the city’s history as well as the events which happened within the building itself, the Commission had no issue in approving the designation. 

Commissioner Matt Dubin called it “a great property to designate.” 

Meanwhile, Commissioner Ed Levin said, “If the Whisky is not a landmark in this town, we don’t have landmarks.”

“It’s an important piece of history for the city,” said Commissioner Francesco Gallo, the new appointee of Councilmember John Duran, who was on hand to swear him in.

Speaking during public comment, resident Dan Morin urged approval, saying it is an “iconic building.”

“The Whisky is known, perhaps, all over the world,” said Morin. “There are so many bands of so much note, so much influence in the rock and roll genre, to see this building not continue to exist as it is now, would be an obscenity to me.”  

Likewise, resident Sheila Lightfoot said, “The Whisky is at the heart of the Sunset Strip, and of course we know that the Sunset Strip is at the heart of West Hollywood.” 

Meanwhile, Victor Omelczenko, president of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, noted that the Whisky was a rare “trifecta,” eligible for historic designation at the local, state and federal level.

With this approval, the Whisky joins two other Sunset Strips venues associated with the city’s rock and roll era that have received the “historic cultural resource” designation. The Roxy Theater and the Rainbow Bar and Grill were both approved for designation at the Commission’s last meeting.  

The historic designation also means the Whisky is now eligible to have its rooftop billboard upgraded to digital. As part of its plan to expand the number of billboards on the Sunset Strip and covert some existing billboards to digital, the city will give extra consideration to buildings that also apply for historic status.  

Commissioner Jake LaJoie recused himself from the deliberations as he lives within 500 feet of the Whisky. Commissioners Yawar Charlie and Lola Davidson were absent. 

The Commission was originally scheduled to consider the French Market complex, but that hearing was delayed. It is currently scheduled to be heard at the Nov. 25 meeting. Although the Commission had previously given its blessing to the French Market complex, the developer, Faring, has revised the plans and the Commission must review those changes.