Los Angeles Author Pushes to Preserve Tower Records as Cultural Resource

Writer and historian persists in the face of negative feedback from West Hollywood city employees

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    Alan Light/flickr
    Tower Records, pictured here in 1988, went out of business in 2006. A Los Angeles author is trying to have the site deemed a "cultural resource."

    A Los Angeles writer is going up against the City of West Hollywood to defend the iconic Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, once the site of a thriving music scene that hosted the likes of John Lennon and Elton John.

    Domenic Priore, author of "Riot on the Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood," will have to face the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission on March 26 as the panel mulls making the now-defunct shop a cultural resource.

    "People travel the world to learn about the places they go," Priore said. "This city hasn't focused on history like New York, London or even San Francisco. LA needs that kind of thing."

    Priore, who submitted the application in 2007, said he helped save businesses in other cities, including San Francisco’s Doggie Diner and Venice West Cafe in Venice Beach.

    "I remember the first time I went to Tower Records in 1974 and being there during the zeal of its growth and highest popularity," Priore said. "The evolution of the market and the Internet hurt businesses with covers, like books and records. We shouldn't forget things in that era."

    The city staff drafted a recommendation to deny designating the site as a cultural resource. That proposal and public testimony for or against the move will be heard at next week's meeting.

    "It’s a public meeting, so just because staff decides something doesn’t mean someone else won’t bring forth new information to see it in a new way," said John Keho, the commission’s planning manager. "That’s what public meetings are for."

    Before the building held the world famous Tower Records flagship store, it was home to Madman Muntz original automotive stereo source -- two distinct past lives that Priore said make the site worthy of preservation.

    "Tower Records really soared over the mainstream and changed the way music was marketed and became an international phenomenon," Priore said.

    Tower Records opened its first location in Sacramento, and the chain had stores in the U.S. since 1960 until the company’s bankruptcy in 2006.

    The store’s hometown is heavily involved in its own efforts of preserving the Tower legacy.

    "We’re preserving something that doesn’t exist anymore, because technology has moved us beyond records," Marcia Eymann, Center of Sacramento History director, told NBC4.

    "Those experiences of the record store are going away, and Tower Records became synonymous with that feeling of community -- the place you gathered to listen to music with your friends and talk about what you were going to buy."

    Eymann said she had heard of the effort afoot in Los Angeles.

    "That particular Tower Records was such an icon in the area the way it was in many locations," she said. "I’ve heard people say how they knew where they were in a city related to where the Tower Records was. It symbolizes what music meant to people, and it’s so much a part of our memories and who we are."

    The Tower Records Project began in 2009 when company founder Russell Solomon donated all of his personal memorabilia to the City of Sacramento.

    The foundation’s goal is to have the collection become a travelling exhibit, but until then, the items remain in a city archive, Greig Best, the project’s development coordinator, told NBC4.

    "We want to keep a history of Tower Records and tell the story of what it was all about," Best said. "Not just Tower, but music at the time and the significance of record stores."

    The project’s website boasts celebrities’ heartfelt connections to Tower Records. It describes actor Billy Bob Thornton as saying, "Tower Records is like a temple to me. I’ll stay there for hours."

    It also quotes Elton John’s 1976 interview with Playboy: "You must understand that if it all ended tomorrow, the job I would most plug for would be to work in a record shop, work at Tower Records or open my own shop."

    While those in Sacramento and Priore are focused on preserving the emotions and memories of Tower Records, the West Hollywood staff showed more concern for the physical characteristics of the building.

    The staff said that since the store’s classic red and yellow paint was removed along with all of the store’s property, the building has lost its original integrity.

    "They’re saying, 'you can’t apply this criteria, so it can’t be designated as historic,'" Keho said.

    The staff also said the brick building does not show any special types of architecture, something Priore defended in his application.

    "...These windows at Tower Records added the lure of a very attractive product, one that has resonated over decades in the appreciation of music," Priore wrote.

    "I know the commission is specific about it being architectural, but there are larger, more human reasons," Priore said. "The location means something, and people can identify with that. Looking at just architecture is the narrow thing to do."

    Priore also mentioned some iconic performers -- including John Lennon and Elton John -- who made music at the former record store as a reason for its proposed landmark status.

    The staff, however, argues it functioned merely as a store with only periodic performances. They added it was difficult to associate the store with the musicians who performed there and emphasized the numerous other venues on the Sunset Strip.

    Sol Barket and Centrum Partners LLC are the owners of the property at 8801 Sunset Blvd. They were notified of the nomination but have not expressed an opinion on the matter, according to city’s public statement.

    "There’s always a chance," Keho said.

    Anyone who is interested can attend the meeting on March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Plummer Park Community Center.

    The decision will then be up to the West Hollywood City Council. A date has not yet been set.

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