From its earliest days in the 1920s, Hollywood's Villa Carlotta apartment building was home to artists—back then, it was Hollywood types like actress Marion Davies and director George Cukor, but over the decades the huge, beamed apartments were turned over to lower-profile working artists who liked the stabilized rents and a hands-off management that let them decorate the common areas and sublet their units when they went out of town on film shoots.
That all changed a few years ago when new management began pushing residents out; developer CGI Properties bought the Carlotta last year and got to work finishing the job, beginning the eviction process on the building's last remaining tenants just before Christmas. So tenants' rights advocates and the Carlotta's last few occupants found it in poor taste that the Hollywood Arts Council would hold its Spirit of Old Hollywood party there last night, a fancy dress event with ghost tours of the property and proceeds going to support the arts in Hollywood. Protests both inside and outside the building turned nasty and several people say there was physical violence.
Artist Sylvie Shain, one of the last four tenants left at the Villa Carlotta, decided she would provide the ghosts, in an art piece called "Ghosts of Carlotta-Present." She and a large group of friends dressed in white and began with an ordinary protest outside the building, then filed in through the Villa Carlotta's front door, alongside sequined party guests, just as the party was beginning in the lobby at six pm. Since she's a tenant and the other participants were her guests, security allowed them to enter with no trouble, and the group made their preparations in Shain's apartment. At 6:30, covered in shrouds and holding tombstones with the names of former Carlotta tenants, they silently filed down the stairs, intending only to skirt the party as they crossed from the building's staircase to the front door, and outside to continue their demonstration. Shain told reporters afterward "There was no plan to go into the event or create any kind of disruption to them."
At the bottom of the stairs, the group was stopped by members of the Hollywood Art Council, CGI founder Adrian Goldstein, the building's manager, and bouncers, who told them that they were not allowed to leave through the front door. The protesters insisted they could not be denied an exit; management said they'd provide an exit through the basement and past the dumpsters on the side of the building; a shouting match broke out and Shain says Goldstein "manhandled" her, pulling off her shroud. (Curbed was at the back of the scrum and couldn't see what was happening at the front of the group.)
Meanwhile, tenants outside were trying to get in through the front door; they got into it with the security out there and both sides allege there was some kind of physical attack. Protesters called the police. Eventually, the ghosts who'd been inside filed out through the basement and onto the sidewalk, where Shain described the fight as "the physical manifestation of what we've been through for two years," referring to how antagonistic the relationship has been between the Carlotta's owners and its tenants. The police arrived about 20 minutes later.
Caroline Phenix of the Hollywood Arts Council says CGI provided the Villa Carlotta space for free, according to Jessica Trent, who lives in the neighborhood and was outside during the confrontation. Trent adds that Phenix "seemed calm, kind, and logical," but did not know about the evictions at the building, and that party guests she spoke with were also clueless, and hadn't been warned about any potential protests. Update: Shain says she spoke directly with members of the Hollywood Arts Council leading up to the event and that several were aware of the evictions and the tenants' objections to their event.
CGI is intending to turn the Villa Carlotta into a hotel and have been allowed to evict tenants under California's Ellis Act—which allows mass rent-control evictions if the property is going to be converted to another use—even though they don't yet have the zoning exemption they'll need to make the conversion. Shain has been leading a campaign with the city's Cultural Heritage Commission to make sure that the renovation work on the historic landmark maintains its original beauty.
The newly-formed LA Tenants' Union is holding protests all this week against mass evictions, homeless harassment, predatory landlording, and other rental injustices.