BY MATTHEW BAJKO with supplemental reporting by Karen Ocamb and Troy Masters | A state historic commission deadlocked on recognizing a West Hollywood building that housed several gay bars and hosted fundraisers early in the AIDS epidemic.
In June, members of the West Hollywood City Council held Mayor Lauren Meister’s Pride reception at The Factory and stressed in their speeches the importance of the building’s place in the area’s LGBT history.
Lauren Meister told The Pride LA, “Not knowing the future of the old Factory building, I asked to have the Mayor’s LA Pride Kickoff Party there — at The Robertson (second floor of the old Factory building), because there’s no denying that the Factory has a place in LGBT history and the gay rights movement. I think those who attended truly appreciated being in that space and being able to celebrate Pride as it might have been celebrated in years past. I think it also demonstrates that the site is important to the community, and I hope that whatever happens there next, the community is on board.”
The site is the first in California to be considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places specifically due to its ties to LGBT history. As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, all seven of the properties on the National Register purposely listed due to their LGBT historical importance are located on the East Coast.
Couple Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney are seeking similar federal recognition for the Mitchell Camera/The Factory site, which has a dual address of 665 N. Robertson Boulevard and 652 N. La Peer Drive in the largely LGBT enclave in Los Angeles County. Gay nightclub Studio One opened at the site in 1974, and later, the Factory gay nightclub also operated at the address.
Both clubs attracted Hollywood A-listers as clientele and were notable, according to historians, for publicly advertising themselves as gay venues and for raising money for local AIDS nonprofits.
But at its July 29 meeting, held in Woodland northwest of Sacramento, the State Historical Resources Commission voted 3-3, with one commissioner absent, on its staff’s recommendation to nominate the property for listing on the National Register. It was the only nomination not approved by the panel at the meeting.
The tie vote means the commission took no action on the nomination, explained deputy state historic preservation officer Jenan Saunders.
“There was a motion to find that the property meets the criteria for eligibility as written in the nomination and to recommend the State Historic Preservation Officer forward the nomination to the Keeper of the National Register, but that motion failed to gain the needed number of votes to pass,” wrote Saunders in an emailed reply to The Pride LA.
The result means that the sponsors of the listing can resubmit their application to the panel, which they plan to do. The listing for the building could be re-addressed as soon as the commission’s next meeting October 28 in Redlands.
“Definitely, it is on the table to reapply. It could come back as early as their next meeting,” said Gosney, who described the panel’s discussion about the Factory listing as “kind of ridiculous” and “pretty silly” at times.
Following the commission meeting, in a Facebook post on the page in support of the listing, the couple expressed their frustration with how the vote went.
“The commissioner’s discussion of the nomination was odd and mostly unrelated to the nomination in front of them. Lots of people came up to us afterward and apologized for what they watched happen. Many said they had never seen anything like this,” stated the posting. “So today, we’re angry at the injustice. But we’re reminded that it took years for Stonewall Inn to become a National Landmark,” referring to the famous gay bar in New York City that President Barack Obama recently declared a national monument for its role in launching the modern LGBT rights movement.
In a separate Facebook posting two days later, the women went into further detail about how the debate at the commission veered into a discussion about Studio One having a door policy that discriminated against women and people of color, and therefore, should not be listed.
Yet, they pointed out, the commission, on a consent vote with no debate at the July 29 meeting, recommended listing for the Hollywood Palladium, which when it opened was a segregated club that did not hire black musicians.
“What we see happening right now is that people in the historic preservation community who are uncomfortable with letting LGBT locations into their club are using Studio One’s discrimination issue to deny us a seat at their table, and they are trying to pit us against each other so we have less power (the divide and conquer strategy),” read the post.
In the 121-page National Register of Historic Places Registration Form they submitted regarding the Factory building, the women went into some detail about the club’s discriminatory entry practices. They contend that part of the LGBT community’s history should be noted and point out that is not a reason to reject listing the property.
“Our history, with its triumphs and tragedies, perfection and imperfection deserves to be recognized (and learned from) just like heterosexual history has been for almost a hundred years now,” the women wrote in the Facebook posting. “And in the eyes of the law, our LGBT historic locations should be held to the very same scrutiny as heterosexual historic locations.”
Commissioner’s involvement questioned
Questions are also being raised about why Commissioner David Phoenix did not recuse himself from the vote on the Mitchell Camera/The Factory listing. The gay Los Angeles resident owns an eponymously named interior design firm that has conducted business with furnishings company Phyllis Morris, according to its website.
The family-owned business has its flagship showroom in West Hollywood and is now run by its late founder’s daughter Jamie Adler, whose father is attorney Nathan Goller. He in turn is a general partner of Robertson Court, a California General Partnership that holds a 90 percent ownership stake in the Mitchell Camera/The Factory property.
Goller had sent the state historic commission a seven-page letter in opposition to seeing the Factory building be listed on the National Register. In addition to questioning the significance of the gay clubs that called the property home, he noted that Studio One was “well-known” for excluding women and people of color.
The letter also contended the property had been altered over the years, and thus, its integrity had been comprised, making it unworthy for National Register listing. It was a point Phoenix also raised, according to people in attendance at the meeting.
Phoenix’s participation in the meeting last month also raised eyebrows considering he has missed 13 of the panel’s meetings since 2012; it meets quarterly. During the last four years he has attended six meetings, the most recent prior to the July 29 meeting being in January 2015, according to the meeting minutes posted to the commission’s website.
A woman who answered the phone at his design firm Friday said Phoenix was unavailable. He has yet to respond to emailed questions about why he did not recuse himself from voting on the Mitchell Camera/The Factory listing request.
Saunders also did not respond to the The Pride LA‘s emailed questions on if Phoenix had sought advice regarding whether he should recuse himself from the vote.
Even if the commission had voted in support of the listing, the building likely would not be listed on the National Register because, under federal rules, the property owner’s permission is required. But it can be listed on the California Register of Historical Resources, despite the opposition of the property owner, thus requiring greater scrutiny for any development plans that would alter or demolish the existing structure.
According to a story in the Los Angeles Times last July, local developer Faring Capital wants to demolish the Mitchell Camera/The Factory building and replace it with a hotel, meeting spaces for people visiting West Hollywood’s design district, and a “park-like walkway” connecting four streets in the area.
SurveyLA‘s Citywide Historic Context Statement (HCS) has recognized the following sites as important markers in the civil rights and social progress of the Los Angeles LGBT community and which have had national impact.
Los Angeles has led the nation in cultivating a politicized gay consciousness and building gay institutions. The city‘s prominent role in creating the modern gay political movement, however, has been overshadowed by the symbolic power of New York‘s Stonewall riots in 1969 as well as San Francisco‘s reputation as the country‘s preeminent gay city.
These historic sites, some of which have been demolished, are of note:
The Black Cat
3909 Sunset Boulevard
A gay bar in Silver Lake during the 1960s and 1970s. The site of the first large protest against police harassment in 1967. This property is designated LAHCM #939.
Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round
The merry-go-round in Griffith Park was the location of a series of gayins between 1970 and 1971. This property is located in Griffith Park, which is designated LAHCM #942
Christopher Street West/Gay Pride Parade
Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Vine
The first gay pride parade occurred in 1970. It was one of several actions taken to increase the visibility of the LGBT community. The parade moved to West Hollywood in 1979 and has been held there ever since
316 East 5th Street (Demolished)
The site of the first known instance of transgender persons resisting arbitrary police arrest in 1959.
Daughters of Bilitis (DOB)
852 Cherokee Avenue
The DOB formed in San Francisco in 1955. It was conceived as a social alternative to lesbian bars, which were subject to raids and police harassment. As the DOB gained members, their focus shifted to providing support to women who were afraid to come out. The Los Angeles chapter was founded by Stella Rush and Helen Sanders in 1958.
Funky Gaywill Shoppe and Recycling Center
1519-21 Griffith Park Boulevard
The Shoppe was operated by the GCSC and provided employment for residents living in the Liberation Houses.
Gay Community Services Center
1612-14 Wilshire Boulevard (Demolished)
Their first headquarters were in two rented houses at 1612-14 Wilshire Boulevard. They moved to a former motel at 1213 N. Highland Avenue in 1974. Now at 1625 N. Schrader Boulevard. The GCSC, incorporated in 1971. It provided a variety of services to gays and lesbians who were neglected or mistreated by existing agencies.
Gay Liberation Front (GLF) Los Angeles/Morris Kight Residence
1822 West 4th Street
The GLF was founded in New York City in 1969 after the Stonewall riots. The Los Angeles chapter was established that same year by Morris Kight, Don Kilhefner, John Platania, Brenda Weathers, and Del Whan among others. The GLF operated out of Kight’s home. He was also one of the founders of the GCSC.
Gay Women‘s Services Center (GWSC)
1542 Glendale Boulevard (Demolished)
Founded in 1971, the GWSC was the first organization in the U.S. incorporated as a social service agency exclusively for lesbians.
Harry Hay Residence
2328 Cove Avenue
Hay (1912-2002) was an actor, political activist and early leader in the gay liberation movement. He played a key role in the formation of the Mattachine Society, although he resigned from the leadership in 1953.
Dale Jennings Residence
1933 North Lemoyne Street
Jennings (1917-2000) was one of the founding members of the Mattachine Society and ONE Incorporated.
Knights of the Clock (address not uncovered)
The Cloistered Order of Conclaved Knights of Sophisticracy, more commonly known as the Knights of the Clock, was an interracial homophile social club based in Los Angeles. Sources differ as to the founding date of the organization, variously citing it as 1949, 1950, and 1951. Regardless of the exact date, the group was one of the earliest gay organizations in the U.S.
Mark IV Baths
4400-4424 Melrose Avenue
The site of a notorious 1975 LAPD raid, which resulted in a major change in the policing of the gay community.
232 S. Hill Street (Demolished)
The Mattachine Society, founded in 1950, was one of the earliest homophile organizations in the U.S. probably second only to Chicago‘s Society for Human Rights (1924). Harry Hay and a group of Los Angeles male friends formed the group to protect and improve the rights of homosexuals.
2256 Venice Boulevard
ONE Incorporated shared offices with the Mattachine Society when they were founded in 1953. However, that building has been demolished. ONE, Incorporated, which grew out of the Mattachine Society, was founded in 1952 as an educational and advocacy organization for gay rights.
Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE)
Established in 1966, PRIDE set a new tone for gay political groups. Like the Gay Liberation Front, PRIDE led aggressive demonstrations against the oppression of gay gatherings or same-sex meetings by the LAPD.
The Patch Bar
610 West Pacific Coast Highway
The site of civil resistance to police harassment, which launched the Flower Power Protest in 1968.
Don Slater Residence
1354 W. Calumet Avenue
Research indicates that Slater lived with his partner, Tony Reyes. Reyes is listed at 1354 W. Calumet Avenue from 1961 and 1987. Slater (1923-1997) was the founding editor of ONE Magazine and later Tangents. In addition, he was the first vice president of the ONE Institute.
Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU)
SCWU was an educational nonprofit organization, formed in 1976 and dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for lesbians and changing stereotypical images of lesbians.
Westside Women’s Center
Founded in 1970, the Westside Women’s Center published a feminist newspaper, provided therapy, and trained women in the building trades.