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Mid-Wilshire Residents Bearish Over Dance Club

August 05, 1988|PENELOPE McMILLAN | Times Staff Writer

At first, it was just a small clump of people, but then it grew to about 50, all talking about the same thing--their anger and frustration over a dance club that has been operating on Wilshire Boulevard for the last 18 months.

Though most were strangers, they soon found they could finish each others' sentences.

"The screaming and yelling," one said.

"And radios blasting," added another.

"And beer bottles on the street in the morning," a third put in.

Music from the Wall Street nightclub, located in what once was the historic El Rey Theatre at 5515 Wilshire Blvd., is so loud they can not sleep, these mid-Wilshire residents said Thursday evening, adding that patrons of the disco also party on local side streets.

"It's the hollering, screaming and horn honking up and down the street," said Dorothy Shadley, "and the 'boom, boom, boom' from the bass in their music, this constant thumping."

The 69-year-old Shadley, who lives in an apartment building she owns nearby, said she has decided to sell rather than endure the late night noise.

"Older people used to sit out front at night," Jackie Smaydy said. "They don't anymore, because these punk rockers walk by and make remarks."

The citizens' meeting, held in a parking lot near the club, was sparked by frustration over a temporary restraining order issued last week by Superior Court Judge Kurt J. Lewin that allows dancing to continue at the club pending a hearing Aug. 22. The City Council had previously voted to ban dancing there, unless a special permit was obtained to allow it, and the owners of Wall Street had gone to court over the issue.

"How many battles do we have to go through?" resident Herb Satterfield asked Tom La Bonge, a deputy to City Councilman John Ferraro, who represents the area and has been trying to resolve the problem.

The court action was the latest expression in nearly three years of conflict that started when former restaurateur Andre Bohbot applied for a conditional-use permit to open Wall Street in 1985. The city zoning administrator rejected the application, according to city records, on the grounds that a nighttime entertainment complex would adversely affect the residents living nearby.

But Bohbot then gained the support of the local Miracle Mile Residential Assn. by signing an agreement promising to preserve the 60-year-old Art Deco building, operate it as a "cultural arts center," hold at least one community event a year, limit its hours and provide adequate valet parking. Residents say none of those have been carried out.

Because of the community agreement, officials said, the Board of Zoning Appeals then reversed the earlier decision, and granted a 3-year conditional-use permit in December, 1985.

"Unfortunately the people operating the club are not living up to the agreement," La Bonge said.

The zoning board also set the club's hours from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. nightly, and this added to the conflict.

"It wakes me up every night when there's an event, from 12 (midnight) to 3 a.m.," Louise Jackson, a local resident said.

But Albert Lum, attorney for the owners, said the hours "dictated the presence of dancing," even though the original permit stated dancing could only be "ancillary and subordinate to the . . . operation." A zoning official familiar with the case could not say Thursday why those hours were put into the original permit.

Youth-Oriented Club

The club became a youth-oriented disco, although expensive cars and limousines pull up most nights as well, and co-owner Charles Glenn has pictures on the walls of sports and show business celebrities who have been there.

"This is the top club in Los Angeles," Glenn said.

Yet disturbance calls to the club's vicinity jumped 219% after it opened in February, 1987, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. One recent night a fight broke out among five patrons outside the club, and other patrons headed for the club could be seen walking down the middle of nearby Dunsmuir and Burnside avenues about 1 a.m., loudly laughing.

Police Capt. Keith Bushey of the Wilshire Division said problems stemmed from an inadequate number of parking spaces near the club, putting patrons, many under drinking age, on local side streets. "They secret liquor in their cars, go back to their cars and get drunk," he said. Then, "They'll urinate in bushes, throw bottles on the street and create what amounts to havoc for the people that live in the area."

Problem With Clientele

Lum described the neighborhood attitude as "this hysteria" and said he believed it was partly because the club's clientele includes blacks, Asians and Latinos.

"There are different ethnic groups, in outlandish modern clothes," he said, in a neighborhood with a "middle-American mentality." The club's clientele, he added, "may be very strange to them, very intimidating, very fearful."

He said the club's music is not loud enough to disturb the neighborhood, and challenged whether police have arrest statistics involving Wall Street that are any more serious than jaywalking. Bushey said those are being compiled.

Lum said the club has been in court several times, defeating attempts by zoning or police officials to readjust the hours of operation, and stop dancing on the premises. The club has fought that on the grounds that such limitations would put them out of business.

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