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Downtown L.A. residents not loving the night life

March 07, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa
  • Revelers hang out outside Club 740 in downtown Los Angeles at closing time. Residents have complained about club-goers who linger for hours and vendors who sell them food.
Revelers hang out outside Club 740 in downtown Los Angeles at closing time.… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

When Club 740 opened on Broadway in mid-2005, many saw it as solid evidence of the hip night life that downtown boosters had been trying to bring to the city center.

With the lure of pounding hip-hop, glass-walled VIP lounges and a massive dance floor, Club 740 managed to draw thousands of people to the old Globe movie theater, on a gritty street that also boasted swap meets and discount jewelry stores.

The club quickly distinguished itself -- but not in a way that most people would boast about. Fights inside and outside the club, reports of sexual assaults and gang activity quickly garnered Club 740 a less-than-savory reputation. A man was stabbed in the parking lot behind the club in August 2006; last December, an intoxicated club-goer fell to his death from a third-floor railing.

Police officers and residents complained about the club, and the city began the process to shut it down.

The situation underscores the difficulties that sometimes come with trying to bring edgy night life into revitalizing areas. Downtown for decades was known as a district that pretty much closed down after dark. These days, however, the streets are teeming with night life from various clubs, eateries and bars.

Club 740 is one of several new downtown nightclubs to run into trouble.

Part of the problem is that downtown is becoming a residential area, with loft and condo dwellers who aren't always excited about rowdy behavior well into the morning hours.

The Chapman Flats, a 168-unit apartment building, opened last year next door to Club 740. There's a dry cleaner on the ground floor. Nearby, condos at the renovated Eastern Columbia building have fetched in the millions of dollars.

Club 740's new neighbors quickly joined a chorus of others questioning whether a club that stays open sometimes as late as 4 or 5 a.m. belongs in the area. They complained about patrons who lingered in the parking lot behind the club for hours and vendors who hawked food and goods to those patrons.

Damian Jones, a spokesman for the club's owner, Ralph Verdugo, said the club has taken steps to quell the violence and soundproof its property. He insists that Verdugo and the club are partners in the revitalization happening in the district.

"He has really cleaned up the area," said Jones of Verdugo. "The club is a vibrant part of the bring-back-Broadway movement."

But earlier this year, the Los Angeles Planning Department began proceedings to revoke the club's conditional use permit. Criminal activities near the club "are jeopardizing and/or endangering the public health in the area," said a report in preparation for the hearings, "... thereby constituting a public nuisance and contributing to the deterioration of the adjacent community."

After a four-hour hearing on the matter, a zoning administrator ordered community members, police, business leaders and others to put together a plan for how the club might adapt in order to survive.

"A big part is working together, between the residents and the owners," said Russell Brown, president of the Historic Business Improvement District, who has been involved in the negotiations.

Last year, police pushed to close Crash Mansion, which had seen its own share of criminal activity; eventually, that club folded after its liquor license was suspended and the Board of Equalization put a tax hold on it.

And Versus, which opened last November inside the old Los Angeles Stock Exchange building, was forced to close less than a month later after city inspectors required upgrades to its sprinkler system and bathrooms. The club's website promised a reopening in February 2009, and a call to the club was not returned.

The zoning department's investigation into Club 740 came after Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes that stretch of Broadway, pushed for an examination of the club after a string of violent incidents there.

"There was a time when Broadway was kind of forgotten in the evening," he said. "So if you had incidents happening in a parking lot or outside a club, very few people would notice. It was kind of no-person's land. There was no one to say that this activity is happening on these streets. A lot of the incidents didn't even get reported to police. Now, with more residents living nearby, I do think it is getting on people's radar."

Tamara Kamci, resident manager of the Chapman, said residents were "not trying to close them down by any means. That's not our thing. We just want to quiet it down, especially with the noise in the parking lot."

Jones said Verdugo had already invested $1.5 million in making the old theater "a good, strong and successful venue for downtown." He said that included posted roving security guards outside the club. But, he added, "at a certain point, there is only so much they can do. If the people are on a public sidewalk or in the parking lot next door, they can't do everything."

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