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Former ‘feminist mecca’ in Chinatown could become Los Angeles landmark

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The Woman’s Building was a hub for women artists from 1975 to 1991

The Woman’s Building at 1727 North Spring Street, adjacent to Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Via Google Maps

A low-key Chinatown building that for nearly two decades housed a groundbreaking women’s cultural center is queuing up for city landmark status, a city planning filing shows.

The Los Angeles Conservancy filed an application for historic-cultural monument status in July for the structure at 1727 North Spring Street, at the foot of the Spring Street Bridge. Built for the Standard Oil Company in 1914, the three-story structure is designed in the Beaux Arts style by noted architect Myron Hunt.

Cultural commission documents say the Standard Oil building changed hands a couple of times before being leased in 1975 to the Feminist Studio Workshop, “an independent school for women artists” founded by artist Judy Chicago, art historian Arlene Raven, and graphic designer Sheila de Bretteville.

The FSW had been based in Westlake, in a building they had dubbed The Woman’s Building. When the women moved to Spring Street, they kept the name.

Over the next 16 years, “the Woman’s Building provided a space for feminist art education and expression, and played a critical role in establishing women artists in the mainstream art movement,” according to the conservancy.

The original caption to this 1983 photo for the Hearld-Examiner read, “The ground-floor renovations inside the downtown Woman’s Building at 1727 N. Spring St. are an example of emerging ‘feminist’ architecture.”
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

The new Woman’s Building was a blossoming feminist collective that offered an array of opportunities for women in art. The building hosted a robust roster of video screenings by women artists or on women’s issues, lectures by feminist scholars, and hosted a yearly Women’s Writing Series that included Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich.

The Woman’s Building also housed a variety of businesses run by women or for women over the years—a bookstore, thrift store, a craft store, cafes, and the offices of Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW).

In the 1980s, the organization became increasingly intersectional, incorporating a diverse range of issues into its programming, including global politics, nuclear war, and gay and lesbian rights. The Woman’s Building was a hub for lesbian art groups, and it co-sponsored an exhibition series called “The Great American Lesbian Art Show,” described as “one of the first open demonstrations of widespread support and solidarity in the lesbian community.”

The Woman’s Building also took a closer look at its own practices and inclusivity regarding women of color, an examination which resulted in it sponsoring more writing workshops and art installations for and by non-white women.

The Woman’s Building closed in 1991 “after suffering a series of financial setbacks,” but its papers live on in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Art. At the time of its closure, the Los Angeles Times referred to it as a “feminist mecca,” writes KCET.

The property is now used as creative offices. According to the conservancy, it’s not known whether the property owner, identified as furniture manufacturer Toby Mazzie Jr., is supportive of the possible landmark designation.

A representative for the planning department says the Cultural Heritage Committee will consider the application at its January 18 meeting.