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Developers Will Save Parts of Historic Circus Disco But Raze Everything Else

A photo posted by Jorge Ameer (@jorgeameer) on

Developers of a new six-acre mixed-use complex on a Hollywood lot near Las Palmas and Santa Monica have been swayed by preservationists looking to save a long-running, inclusive gay disco on the site from being totally lost. The LA Times reports that AvalonBay, which is planning to build the disco-destroying project, has reached an agreement with preservationists to save key parts of the Circus Disco—which will still be demolished—and weave them in among the project's 695 residential units and 25,000 square feet of retail.

The Circus Disco is notable for its non-exclusivity. The club was founded in 1975 by Gene La Pietra and Ermilio Lemos out of frustration at "being turned away from white, gay establishments," La Pietra told LA Weekly. In contrast, at Circus Disco, "the only reason people were shut out was the fire code," a former patron told the Times. The club became an important location for LA's gay Latino community and for gay people of color, and that role is a large part of why many argue the structure should be saved.

But, it turns out, that's not going to happen. The physical club will still be torn down, with the focus shifting to preserving its memory. To do that, the club's "dance floor, neon ceiling lights and that fanciful clown entrance" will be saved and inserted into the planned residential/retail complex. Other important elements will be saved, too, like the lone disco ball that will hover over the planned elevator lobby. The president of the preservation group Hollywood Heritage (HH) told the Times that this arrangement will spare most of the historic parts of the club, and will also allow for its story to be told after the physical structure is gone. AvalonBay's complex will eventually have an exhibit about the Circus Disco and its role in LA gay history, and a "walking path" through the development will be named Circus Way.

As part of this deal, Hollywood Heritage will stop trying to get the Circus Disco building named a historic monument, a move that would have posed hurdles to demolishing it. (HH's plan to get the designation for the building had its own hurdles, says the Times: "Historic preservationists had discovered that half of the original club had been torn down decades ago, which would have made it difficult to enshrine the building itself as a monument.") So now it's just a matter of time before this once-gritty corner of Hollywood, notable for its strip malls and a trans prostitution hangout—the Donut Time shop—is, for better or worse, unrecognizable.

With this preservationist-developer accord reached, there's just one major unresolved battle for a historic LGBT site left: In West Hollywood, developers are trying to raze the building that once held the gay dance club Studio One to make a pedestrian-oriented shopping area with a fancy hotel. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has tried to come to the rescue, adding the site to its list of most endangered places in the nation—a move they're hoping will draw the attention needed to save the place.
· Deal with developers will recognize Circus Disco's place in Hollywood gay history [LAT]
· The Past and Future of Three of LA's Historic But Threatened Gay Nightclubs [Curbed LA]
· "Megadevelopment" Seeks to Singlehandedly Gentrify Hollywood's Donut Time District [Curbed LA]