By Aaron Blevins, 3/14/2013
Author seeks to designate site as cultural resource
To author Domenic Priore, the former Tower Records location in West Hollywood is more than the site of a dead, iconic record store in dire need of refurbishing; it’s an opportunity to celebrate the area’s music and counter-culture history.
That is why he has applied to have the location at 8801 Sunset Blvd. designated as a cultural resource. His application will be discussed during a West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission public hearing at 7 p.m. on March 26 at Plummer Park.
“[The site is] just really important,” Priore said. “It was such a central locus for the music industry back in the day. It was really where all the buzz really was.”
He authored “Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood”, a book about the role The Strip played in uniting music and social consciousness in the greater Los Angeles area in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Priore, who also wrote for Tower Records’ “Pulse!” magazine in the 1990s, said the store pitched to that counter-culture and its popularity ballooned. The location would eventually host artists as they conducted album signings, promotions and concerts.
“It was where a lot of the pop media and the music behind pop media was coming from in a way,” Priore said. “The center of the music industry … was coming out of that one store.”
Tower Records closed on The Sunset Strip in 2006, and shortly thereafter, Centrum Partners proposed a mixed-use project on the property. The project, which would have brought more than 18,000-square-feet of retail space and 20,000-square-feet of office space, was denied twice by the West Hollywood City Council, mostly due to parking and traffic impacts.
If Centrum Partners were to propose a different project, they would essentially be forced to start from scratch, said Brian Lewis, of Marathon Communications, the developer’s public relations firm. Sol Barket, the head of Centrum, declined an interview for this story.
During the environmental impact report phase of the project, EDAW Inc. conducted a cultural resources assessment of the property, which is still owned by Centrum Partners. The assessment concluded that the site, now a clothing store, was not fit for such a designation.
“Removal of the signage and painting scheme has damaged the integrity of the site to the point where it no longer has the capacity to communicate or represent its former notable identity as a music store,” the report states. “In its present condition, this is a location rather than a historic site where integrity merits preservation.”
Nevertheless, Priore said he would like to see the site become a cultural resource center that celebrates The Strip’s history. Since the site is near several hotels, the location could be a major tourist draw, he said.
“Any tourist from any part of the world wants to go to some kind of a place like that and get a sense of why this place is important,” Priore added.
He referenced Hollywood and Vine, where there is little history on site to alert tourists to the significance of the intersection.
Priore said the Tower Records location has great visibility, and has plenty of space for such a use. Although music has evolved through the digital age, many people still enjoy records, he said. Priore mentioned popularity of Record Store Day, which is held every April.
“People still have an identity with [Tower Records],” he added. “It’s like something out of the Old West.”
Priore, who lives in Tujunga, said a “sophisticated” museum that could paint a picture of The Strip prior to its “contemporary incarnate” would be a landmark that addresses West Hollywood’s role in music and social change.
“There’s a tremendous amount of history there,” he said. “And it crosses music. It crosses movies.”
The author said he has fought for a cultural resource designation before. He said that in 2010 he helped save the Venice West Cafe, which was of significance to the Beat Generation.
West Hollywood planning manager John Keho said that if a cultural resource designation is approved, a structure can still be altered, though it depends on what the building project is. If developers wanted to tear the building down, they could theoretically do so, but it’s a longer, drawn-out process, he said. If they wanted to renovate the building, they must not compromise its historic character, Keho said.
“Once something is designated, there can be changes to the building, but you don’t want to do the renovations in a way that would detract from or eliminate or remove the character-defining features,” he said, adding that the city has a set of guidelines that planners use to determine what work can and can’t be completed.