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Students Charge Club Has Biased Admission Policy

October 26, 1989|CLAY EVANS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ethnic student groups from several Los Angeles-area colleges have joined in a mounting protest against a Hollywood dance club they say has a racially discriminatory admission policy.

The Occidental College Asian Alliance students' group is leading the campaign against Florentine Gardens on Hollywood Boulevard, charging that the over-18 dance club arbitrarily applies an unstated dress code to prevent groups of blacks, Latinos and Asians from entering "University Night" on Thursdays.

A lawyer for the club flatly denied ethnic or racial discrimination by its personnel.

Members of the Occidental group and ethnic students from several other colleges, including USC and UCLA, said they have been told they could not enter the club in recent weeks because of dress code violations. The students said they were turned away for wearing attire such as baggy pants, tennis shoes and turtleneck shirts, but that they later observed similarly dressed white patrons entering the club.

A telephone recording at Florentine Gardens describes the dress code as "dressy," as do radio commercials for the club. Security personnel at the club, responsible for making admissions selections, refused to describe the dress policy when asked by a reporter.

Elaine Hsieh, vice president of the Occidental Asian Alliance, said the group is seeking a letter of apology from the club's owner, an immediate reprimand of all security personnel and the resignation or firing of the club's security supervisor.

"We are not asking anything for ourselves, no monetary compensation. Does the owner know what is going on? . . . As owner, he has a responsibility to clean up a mess in management if he has one," Hsieh said.

Hsieh said the protest stems from a Sept. 28 incident when about 20 Asian Alliance members were refused entry and, according to Hsieh, later were subjected to racial harassment by security personnel. Hsieh said a security supervisor would not allow the students to enter the club to notify friends they were leaving, saying "There are already too many of your kind in there."

The security guard accused by the student group refused to give his name or answer questions from a reporter about the alleged incident, referring all questions to the management of the club.

Robert A. DePiano, attorney for club owner Kenneth MacKenzie, said "There are absolutely no quotas based on race, ethnic background, creed, or religion," at the club.

DePiano said students may be denied entry for a number of reasons, such as the "attitude of the patron in line, attitude when confronted by Florentine personnel" and evidence of drug or alcohol intoxication. He said many factors may influence club workers to deny entry to particular students, but that "the dress code may be the only articulated reason for refusal."

"When you run a large establishment such as this, you have to consider reducing or eliminating any potential disruption inside the club," DePiano said. Security personnel may deny "someone who may cause a disruption inside, start a fight, create an atmosphere that could lead to confrontation--those who may try to start a fight."

DePiano said the club is noted for its harmonious racial mix and pointed to a February, 1989, Times story describing the ethnic diversity of the Thursday night clientele.

The cavernous club, sandwiched between an adult movie theater and a Salvation Army office on Hollywood Boulevard off Bronson Avenue, plays thumping dance music for patrons on weekends, and can hold more than 1,400 people. On Thursday's "University Night," with free admission before 11 p.m. to patrons with valid university identification cards, the line of hopeful entrants snakes around the edge of the building and into the expansive parking lot.

The Asian students from Occidental have led the most organized protest of the club, accusing management of trying to keep a racial balance at the club by refusing entry to many ethnic students and allowing virtually all white students to go in. The Occidental group has met with other student groups, including the Asian Assembly, an umbrella organization for 14 Asian groups at USC, and the Asian and Pacific Islanders Student Alliance at UCLA. Both those groups said they were aware of the complaints about Florentine Gardens, and began petitions of their own, the Occidental students said.

The Occidental students said they will continue to meet with other groups of ethnic students, including blacks and Latinos, and said they have begun sending letters to nearly every college in the Los Angeles area urging a student boycott of the club. They have threatened to picket Florentine Gardens if their demands are not met.

Hsieh said Asian Alliance at Occidental had originally sought no more than an apology from Florentine management. Now, she said, members are angry at the owner's slow response and failure to take seriously a letter the group sent Oct. 4.

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