Organizers of West Hollywood's annual gay pride celebration said this week that they are planning to relocate the two-day festival, most likely to a new site in Los Angeles.
Although the Gay Pride Parade will still be held in West Hollywood, officials of Christopher Street West, celebration organizers, said construction at the usual festival site--the Pacific Design Center parking lot--has prompted a search for a new location. Two large showroom halls and a parking garage are being built on the lot at San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue.
"We tried everything we could think of to keep the festival in West Hollywood," said Bob Craig, president of Christopher Street West. "But frankly, there just aren't any suitable alternatives to the Pacific Design Center lot. There's nothing in West Hollywood large enough for our needs."
While Craig and other group officials are considering several sites in Los Angeles, the leading alternative is Pan Pacific Park in the Wilshire District, almost a mile from the Santa Monica Boulevard parade route.
Craig and Christopher Street West spokesman Craig Jonker said the organization is negotiating with the county Department of Parks and Recreation for use of the park in June. "We're in the early stages right now," Jonker said.
Jonker said organizers hope to have the new festival site selected "in the next month or so."
Last year, festival officials estimated that about 150,000 people watched the parade and 80,000 attended the festival, which features live music, food and refreshments and booths with gay-oriented themes. This will be the parade's 17th year.
The West Hollywood festivities have been among the largest annual gay pride celebrations in the nation. They mark the anniversary of a June, 1965, confrontation in New York's Greenwich Village between police and gay activists, which is considered a turning point in the gay rights movement. In recent years, Christopher Street West officials have emphasized the celebratory aspects of their event over its political themes, and the West Hollywood gathering has been viewed by many activists as less militant than similar celebrations in San Francisco and New York.
"We are less political outwardly, but the gay rights message is still there," Jonker said.
The event was held along Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles during the mid-1970s, but skirmishes between gay activists and police and steadily increasing crowds led Christopher Street West organizers to move it to West Hollywood in 1979.
Organizers say the event's relaxed atmosphere and improved relations between homosexuals and police should ensure a peaceful festival if it's held in Los Angeles.
"I think the Los Angeles Police Department is far more enlightened than it was in 1978," Craig said. "The police have never been 100% cooperative, but I think, to a large degree, our differences have been resolved over time. My liaisons with the LAPD have been most satisfactory in recent years."
Police spokesman Lt. Dan Cooke said he saw "no difference in (police) attitude since 1979," but agreed with Craig that there wouldn't be any problems between police and festival participants.
"We encourage people to parade and have festivals, as long as it's legal," Cooke said. "I don't see why there would be any problems. We would do our best to ensure that the festival was peaceful."
Other gay activists expressed concern about the expected relocation to Los Angeles. "I'm always worried when the LAPD is involved," said Tony Melia, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
Citing the mid-1970s skirmishes between police and gay marchers, Melia said he hoped that "there is a new police attitude toward gays."
Melia also was concerned about the expected loss of revenue that West Hollywood merchants will suffer because of the festival's relocation. "I think it is inevitable that we will lose some business," he said. "The question is how much?"
But Lloyd Long, West Hollywood's director of human services, expects only a slight drop in business. "I think most people who come to watch the parade and then go over to the festival will still end up at the bars and restaurants and other entertainment outlets in West Hollywood," he said.
"We're sorry to see (the festival) go," Long said, adding that city officials hope that the festival could be moved back to West Hollywood once construction is completed at the Pacific Design Center in 1988.
Craig and Jonker said the organization would not be able to make a decision about returning to West Hollywood until the construction is finished.
"Any move back is contingent on what the design center looks like when the construction is finished and how well the festival does at its new site," Jonker said.