City Staff Recommends Against Historic Status For Tower, Hearing Continues Monday

City staff says that just because history was made in the building, doesn't mean it is historic.

There's no doubting that history was made inside the the former location of Tower Records at 8801 Sunset Boulevard.

According to the accounts of employees, Stevie Wonder shopped there, members of Guns N' Roses met there and acts ranging from Prince to Duran Duran performed there.

At the hearing that opened on Tuesday, March 26, the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission heard numerous testimonies from locals who believed Tower Records was an integral part of the city's and rock music's history.

However, whether any remnants of that history remains is another question entirely. According the city's department of community development, the answer is "no."

City staff has recommended the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) deny the request of author Domenic Priore to designate as a local cultural resource.

The HPC asked staff to conduct more research and return with a recommendation after last month's hearing was continued without a final ruling.

In the staff report submitted to the HPC, staff argues that because the building does not possess any remarkable architectural features, and because its iconic red and yellow signs were removed when Tower Records closed in 2006, the building does not merit designation as a cultural resource.

Staff argues that the application is in violation of Criterion A: Special Elements of the City of the West Hollywood municipal code, which requires that buildings both exemplify special elements of the city and possess structural integrity. 

"The report concluded that the property does not satisfy the second of these two conditions. Although the subject building has undergone few material alterations since its construction in 1970, the removal of features that referenced Tower Records appears to have resulted in a cumulative loss of integrity, as these features played an integral role in connecting the vernacular commercial building with Tower Records’ tenancy," the staff report states.

In making its case against designation, city staff also referenced Chapter 11.5 of the California Code of Regulations, which states that "properties must retain enough of their historical character or appearance to be recognizable as historical resources and to convey the reasons for their significance.”

Those who are fighting to secure a historic designation for Tower Records have argued that there is precedent for saving historic buildings that don't necessarily support historic architecture.

Priore's co-applicant Jerome Cleary emailed West Hollywood Patch a list of two-dozen Los Angeles area locations that have been designated as historic "without integrity." His list can be downloaded above.

Among the locations Cleary listed is the Darkroom on Wilshire Boulevard, which was designated as historic place in 1989 despite serving as a home to several restaurants after the photography business closed.

One significant different between the Darkroom and Tower Records, though, is that despite some significant changes, the Darkroom still retains its distinctive camera lens facade to this day.

According to staff, another important distinction is the one between West Hollywood's and Los Angeles municipal code.

While Los Angeles' municipal requires that buildings be culturally or architecturally significant, West Hollywood buildings must be both.

"One difference that staff noted is that the City of Los Angeles’s designation criteria do not explicitly state that properties must retain integrity, whereas the City of West Hollywood’s Criterion A does," the staff report states.

The West Hollywood HPC will continue their hearing on the Tower Records designation Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in the Plummer Park Community Center, Room 5 & 6, 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard.

George April 22, 2013 at 08:23 AM
I have to agree on this one. The history of Tower records is legendary but the structure is nothing special. I could see if it was a gorgeous art deco style all run down from a time period long past but the former Tower record location is a nothing looking building.
fiona gonsier April 22, 2013 at 04:45 PM
If you ever wish to talk to an employee of Tower Records. I was a regional manager of 77 tower record stores over a period of 18 years working out of the sunset store and the main office in Sacramento. I started with the 7th store and then closed them all. I have Tower record awards and budget reports that only a regional manager would have had access too. As well as many other significant items. I as well started TRIP. Tower Records Import Product. With executive director Earl Martis. Of course Tower was most famous for their imports. If you ever want to talk or see my mementos of 18 years in Management at Tower let me know. As well I commented on your article on the Zen raid. I am now a M2F transgender residing in Santa Monica. Oh yea. About Tower being a historic site. The stories I could tell you would leave no doubt that it should be a historic site. Keep up the good work. Best wishes, Fiona Neilla Gonsier
Rudolf Martin April 22, 2013 at 05:52 PM
interesting that West Hollywood sets a much higher bar for historic designation than LA. so if a truly historic event unfolds in a building in weho it still cannot be designated unless it is also architecturally significant?
Riley April 22, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Two words: Irv's Burgers.
Jerome Cleary April 22, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Fiona, can you email ASAP JeromeCleary@aol.com as I would appreciate your help on this. Can you email me today soon?
David Fonseca (Editor) April 22, 2013 at 10:39 PM
Rudolf, what I think the rules means to states is that non-architecturally significant structures must look the same way that they did when historic things were happening in/at them.
Becky Ebenkamp April 23, 2013 at 05:52 AM
David, you should read WeHo's high bar for historic designation some time. It is actually just a list of suggestions rather than iron-clad, legally binding rules. There are five criteria, and only one needs to be met. One of those is this architectural one above, another relates to cultural importance. The board can recommend designating a building on any of these merits, yet it is defers to state codes to obfuscate matters.
joninla May 02, 2013 at 09:07 PM
joninla May 02, 2013 at 09:11 PM
I remember going to Tower Records as a Kid in the late 70's-80's with my older brothers. It was a disgusting dump even in its heyday. When Virgin opened its superstore, I shopped there. Now the majority of music buyers/listeners have never seen a record or cassette tape. No history to save at Tower Records - inside or out.


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