The way residents see it, much of the late-night noise, littering and carousing in their Miracle Mile neighborhood has been caused by a clerical error.
The mistake--acknowledged by Los Angeles zoning officials--wiped out what residents say was a clearly understood agreement between homeowners and operators of the Wall Street entertainment center on Wilshire Boulevard. As a result, residents say, the club has been open until 2 a.m. every weeknight for dancing and drinking.
"I hear bottles breaking at night, people screaming, car sirens going off," apartment renter Dean A. Piel said Tuesday, three months after the club opened in the old El Rey Theatre, a refurbished Art Deco structure from the 1930s. "I average about four hours of sleep a night . . . that's it. I'm tired of it."
A parade of complaining residents, some armed with petitions, prompted action Tuesday by the city's Planning and Environment Committee. The committee, a study group for the City Council, voted 2 to 0 to support a "correction" of the club's operating permit, forcing it to close by midnight Mondays through Thursdays.
The action is expected to win final approval by the City Council early next month.
Club owner David Andre Bohbot, who spent about $800,000 to transform the aged theater into a bright pink dinner-and-dance club, insisted that there was never an agreement to close the facility at midnight. He said he agreed "not to schedule events" such as dinner shows after midnight on weeknights.
"We never talked about hours of operation," Bohbot told committee members, "because the law says you can stay open until 2 a.m.--for any restaurant."
However, planning officials said the issue was extensively debated and settled well over a year ago, when the city's Board of Zoning Appeals first considered the club's operating permit. Residents and club operators negotiated 18 conditions governing the club--including operating hours--before all parties agreed it would close at midnight during the week, said Zoning Administrator Frank Eberhard.
Then, somehow, the permit was incorrectly written to say 2 a.m., Eberhard said.
"It was a clerical error," he said. "The secretary of the board listened to the (meeting) tape and found the action was, indeed, to limit the hours of operation to midnight during the week."
Residents were unaware of the mistake until the center opened this year.
Noise from the club at 5515 Wilshire Blvd. is particularly hard on many senior citizens who rent units nearby, apartment owner Bernard Worms testified Tuesday. He attributes the death of one of his tenants, an elderly woman whose windows faced the club, to disturbances outside. He said she began losing weight and soon stopped eating, and was hospitalized April 1.
"She succumbed April 12," he said, blaming "the goings on in the parking lot next to our building."
"I could get 1,000 residents" to sign petitions opposing the late hours, he said.
Residents described nuisances ranging from loud music to cars racing in the streets. Agnes Smaydy, who turned in a petition containing 125 signatures, said club patrons make sleeping impossible.
"We've had fights on our front lawns," she said. "They urinate on our sidewalks, they urinate on our driveways. It's not fair to our neighborhood."
Bohbot and Albert Lum, representing operators of the club, denounced such activities and said they "make a conscious, diligent effort to keep everything as quiet and as clean as possible."
The club has hired seven attendants to run two valet parking lots and encourages patrons to park away from residential streets, Bohbot said. The club, he said, has been good for the community because it has helped preserve the old theater and made it safer to walk along Wilshire late at night.
The theater is one of numerous Art Deco structures within a four-block area that residents hope to preserve as a historic district. Members of the Miracle Mile Residential Assn. have tried to work with Bohbot and other building owners and operators to preserve the buildings--from the Miracle Mile's glory years--and to block high-rise commercial construction.
"Kept intact, it's more valuable than if they tear it down," Lyn MacEwen Cohen, president of the 4,000-member residential association, said of the theater. "We want them to be successful. I look forward to having it all work out. (But) we definitely don't take kindly when people don't live up to their agreements."
Bohbot said it is doubtful whether the club could survive if it closes by midnight on weeknights.
But Councilman Hal Bernson, a planning committee member, told the owner to be grateful the club is not being forced to close.