WEST HOLLYWOOD — Members and allies of a hotel and restaurant workers’ union have launched a petition promising a referendum on a plan to turn the site of the historic Studio One nightclub into a boutique hotel.
The developer, Faring Capital, plans to tear down WeHo’s original Factory building and use approximately half of the materials to build another “Factory building” onsite. They claim the new hotel, retail and restaurant space will “honor the legacy” of Studio One, a pioneering gay club that existed on the site in the 1970s and 80s.
However, Don Kilhefner, an activist and elder in the LGBT community, has been critical of the project and how it portrays the history of Studio One.
Kilhefner and other activists have criticized the project for “whitewashing” the nightclub’s more controversial history and failing to take a proactive role in combating ongoing racism and sexism in the hospitality industry.
While Studio One famously held some of the country’s first AIDS fundraisers, it was also the site of vocal protest against the club’s discriminatory admission policy. The club allegedly required extra identification from female and African-American patrons at the door.
“This project should be learning from the site’s history, not sanitizing it and allowing the mistakes of the past to endure,” said Kilhefner, a co-founder of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front.
The demolition of the Factory building itself has been a source of controversy in the community. The project narrowly passed the West Hollywood Historic Commission by a vote of 4-3 back in January due to commissioners concerns about the moving and shortening of the historic building.
Faring Capital has so far refused to speak with hotel workers that live and work in West Hollywood about their concerns on the project. The hotel industry has been accused of replacing black workers with non-black employees and paying women and people of color less than their white male colleagues.
“Faring Capital’s project offers a sanitized version of Studio One’s troubled history,” said Elle Farmer, research analyst with Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hotel and restaurant workers. “We want the project to acknowledge its problematic past and take meaningful steps to ensure its future workforce is diverse and treated with dignity, respect and fairness.”
The West Hollywood City Council will vote on the proposed project in the coming months. While activists are hopeful the City Council will act, volunteers in red T-shirts are already out gathering signatures and are prepared to call for a referendum.