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Tower Records not old enough for cultural designation

April 08, 2013|By Bob Pool
  • Lindsey Ikuta of Gardena snaps a photo of the Tower Records store in West Hollywood in 2006, the year the record store chain filed for bankruptcy. For six years, music fans have been hoping the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission would designate the building as a local cultural resource, a first step toward someday turning it into a museum.
Lindsey Ikuta of Gardena snaps a photo of the Tower Records store in West… (Los Angeles Times )

For six years, music fans have been hoping to see the Tower Records building in West Hollywood designated as a local cultural resource, a first step toward someday turning the former retail record and video store into a museum.

It would stand, they said, as a tribute to the blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll scenes that for decades defined the mile-and-a-half section of Sunset Boulevard between Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Trouble is, the squat, unassuming Tower Records building constructed in 1971 isn't old enough to meet federal and state criteria for such a designation. And after the record store chain filed for bankruptcy in 2006, the record and video inventory was sold off, the record bins ripped out, the hand-painted album covers removed and the Tower signs erased.

Without some remaining hint of what was once here, the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission concluded it would not be possible to designate it a cultural resource. Instead, commissioners agreed to see if the city attorney could figure out a way for West Hollywood to legally commemorate the old store at 8801 W. Sunset Blvd. and the effect it had on musicians, record labels and the Sunset Strip's club scene.

Those who support a museum say Tower was at the center of Los Angeles' mushrooming music industry for 35 years and was the site of more than a few epic concerts in its 40-space parking lot.

And even before Tower Records opened and became "a music beacon and gave the music industry a model for marketing," pop culture historian Domenic Priore said the site was home to a shop used by pioneering four-track stereo music cartridge inventor Earl "Mad Man" Muntz.

But Muntz and his early-day contributions won't help qualify the site for a cultural designation since his building is also but a memory, said Edward Levin, one of the commissioners.

Backers say a museum would recognize the rock scene that flourished starting in the early 1960s with Pandora's Box and later at the Whisky, the Roxy, and more recently, the Viper Room. It could also salute earlier clubs and night spots that proliferated in the 1930s and '40s, when Cafe Trocadero, Ciro's and Mocambo were open.

When the Doors, the Byrds and Frank Zappa performed on the strip in the 1960s, the area had already become a hangout for celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bugsy Siegel and Humphrey Bogart, according to Priore, author of "Riot on the Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood."

Priore and Jerome Cleary, a writer and stand-up comedian who has lived next door to the Tower Records site for about 28 years, filed the cultural resource application with the city.

If such a designation can't be granted, a monument at the edge of the site might be appropriate, commissioner Paul Rice said.

He pointed to a marker on the sidewalk near 8524 Sunset Blvd., the fictional address of the private detective office that was featured in the TV series "77 Sunset Strip." That office was adjacent to Dino's Lodge, an Italian restaurant owned by singer Dean Martin.

The Tower Records site was sold to developers for a reported $12 million, but the proposed multimillion-dollar office and retail complex was never built, leaving the door open for a museum, backers hope.

But the site's owner, Centrum Sunset LLC, is opposed to a cultural resource designation, according to Nicki Carlsen, a lawyer for the company. The property was most recently used as a clothing store.

Others backing the cultural resource designation include Jen Dunbar, president of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, and 52-year-old Alfredo Flores, who as a Franklin High School student hung out at Tower Records on weekends.

"There was always something going on," Flores recalled.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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