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Save the Silver Platter, Westlake's Oldest Gay Bar

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URGENT 7/8/2024 UPDATE: Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez has the power to halt demolition and try to save the Silver Platter under CEQA. This is explained in Mike Callahan’s bombshell analysis. Please email Councilmember.Hernandez@lacity.org or call her office at (213) 473-7001 and say “The demolition threatened Silver Platter at 2700 W. 7th Street is a legacy gay bar that matters to me, and under CEQA, the project has not been deemed complete and you have the power to halt demolition until it can be properly assessed as an historic resource. I am counting on Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez to follow the law and try to save this community landmark!”


Gentle reader,

Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re late for school, and the bus comes, and you get on, but then you realize there’s nobody driving and it’s careening all over the road while children flail and scream and mess themselves?

Yeah, welcome to Los Angeles, 2024.

The Silver Platter in the title sequence of Barfly, 1987.

This week’s land use and preservation crisis is a doozy. But before we tell you about it, we need to tell you about the Silver Platter. Since 1963, this modest corner bar has served the Westlake community, a neighborhood of low-income renters who gravitate to the affordable pre-war housing stock and proximity to public transit.

When the bar was new, Westlake was the western edge of The Run, the zone of “safe spaces” for gay Angelenos seeking community at a time when their sexuality was still a crime, and the Silver Platter served that population. In the 1980s, as L.A.’s Central American population ballooned, the bar welcomed this new demographic.

Still from the trailer for Wildness.

The story of how this old gay bar held its doors open to many different kinds of Angelenos, not always comfortably, is told in the documentary Wildness (Wu Tsang, 2012), which is narrated by a feminine, Spanish speaking personification of the Silver Platter bar. You can watch the whole film here.

Back to the preservation crisis. Remember mid-2020, when we were all stuck at home trying to be good citizens and not contribute to the spread of a deadly respiratory pandemic? Maybe, like us, you were scraping butterfly eggs off the bottom of milkweed leaves to grow tiny golden miracles on your desk, or baking yummy treats.

Or maybe, like Nady Mahdavi Roussin of 2700 W. 7th Street LLC / Roussin Capital Group, you were going online to file permits with the City Planning Department to demolish a precious cultural resource like the National Register eligible 2700 W. 7th Street commercial block, containing Westlake’s oldest gay bar for a bland, upzoned TOC development project.

And when the permitting document asked if there were any cultural resources identified in the city’s SurveyLA or HistoricPlacesLA portals, you clicked no—which is not true, a false statement then repeated in the Findings and Justifications for the sought density bonus.

And the City Planning Department, operating like the rest of Los Angeles City government from the home offices of essentially unmanaged staffers, proceeded to rubber stamp this enormous and extremely profitable new development, while either not checking if the application was truthful about the presence of recognized historic resources, or not caring.

If you’d like to support our preservation work, you can do that below. You can also tip us on Venmo (Esotouric) or here. Your support helps us look out for Los Angeles and we thank you!

Which bring us to mid-May 2024, when a community member out walking their dog spotted the demolition permit notice tucked nearly out of sight, on a shuttered storefront to the west of the Silver Platter bar’s heavily traveled corner entry, snapped a photo and alerted us to the threat.

Because this project has been permitted backwards, with the speculative new building getting approved long before a demolition notice was placed in public view, it can feel like there’s nothing Angelenos can do about it.

But that’s just not true.

It is the responsibility of the City Planning Department to process applications for new developments and to actually read them. The staffers who allowed this TOC project to move forward without flagging the threat to historic resources have created a problem that seems overwhelming, but which the city can still solve.

If you share our concern that the oldest gay bar in Westlake, located within a National Register eligible commercial block, is threatened with demolition due to the failure of City staff to properly review the redevelopment proposal, please send a short email to the two lead decision makers—and pass this message on.

In a short email in your own words, please tell Ken Bernstein (Office of Historic Resources) and Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez (Ken.Bernstein@lacity.org, councilmember.hernandez@lacity.org) that you care about the Silver Platter and are concerned that the TOC project ENV-2020-5152-CE was approved despite the developer failing to truthfully list the historic resource on the parcel, and that you want to see this historic building and legacy business preserved under the protections accorded them by their presence within the borders of the Westlake Recovery Community Redevelopment Survey.

As head of OHR, Ken Bernstein has the discretion to reject any demolition permit that falls within the redevelopment area, when a property owner seeks to destroy a cultural resource instead of making the effort to adaptively reuse it. He’s been trying to do just that with the nearby M. Flax Artists Materials and B’nai B’rith Lodge buildings, though it has been a struggle, and we appreciate his efforts.

Despite what some real estate hobbyist Yimbys believe, preservationists don’t want to see their cities trapped in amber. A low-rise building like 2700 West 7th Street is obviously a candidate for redevelopment, and it is reasonable to explore how to make the corner more dense.

But that development discussion needs to include recognition of the historic resources already on the parcel: a 101-year-old structure eligible for National Register designation and city landmark status, and a queer bar that has served successive generations and communities of outsiders since the time when it was still a crime to love someone of the same gender.

It’s true that at the time this application was submitted, the Silver Platter was not hopping. All law abiding nightlife in L.A. was in suspended animation. But this very old bar in the heart of the city is once again alive and welcoming to all who need her warm embrace.

After making this video outside the Silver Platter, we stepped inside for the first time. What we found was a beautiful, clean and friendly place filled with locals who love being able to leave their crowded apartments to socialize, shoot some pool, dance and relax among friends—a coral reef that should be protected for this and future generations.

Inside we found Marilyn, of the charged preservation and land use crisis unfolding across town and in City Hall.

We introduced ourselves to the bartender, who wanted to know what the demolition permit on the adjacent storefront meant, and how long she was going to still have a job. All we could tell her was that we were there to help, and that a lot of people care about the Silver Platter and about her.

So please tell Ken and Eunisses that Los Angeles needs to do better. Save the Silver Platter, just an easy stroll down the hill from Morris Kight’s newly landmarked home where Gay Liberation was born, for all the souls that bloomed here, and those that will bloom again.

Yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard

Esotouric


Update 5/16/2024: Ken Bernstein from Office of Historic Resource responds “Thanks, Kim and Richard, for alerting us—I'll look into this today.”… A community member reports that the demolition notice is no longer posted on the 7th Street storefront, which means the clock needs to start over for legally required notification of proposed demolition… And Lexis-Olivier Ray produced a short film for LA Taco about the demolition threat—including a shot of the demo permit thrown in the gutter!—and got an encouraging quote from the office of Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez: “Councilmember Hernandez believes that it’s crucial that we honor the history of the LGBTQIA+ movement, and protect safe spaces for those community members. This development project was approved prior to our time in office, however our office is working with the Planning Department to identify what options are available to protect this important location.” We are so happy that they are listening and hopeful for a good solution. Keep sending those emails!

Update 5/18/24: QVoice News picks up the story for its readers in the LGBTQ community.

Update 5/23/24: Open Letter to Councilwoman Hernandez: Please Defend MacArthur Park’s Silver Platter from Quien Es Tu Vecindario aka Who Is Your Neighborhood.

Update 6/4/2024: After a pause of nearly a month, and while the City Planning Department was on notice that there was no legally required notice of demolition posted on the building, the LADBS portal for the demolition permit shows that clearances have resumed, including the potentially fatal sign off for Redevelopment Project Area. The City Planning Department has the authority to reject demolition of historic resources in former CRA/LA redevelopment zones, and the Silver Platter merits such protection. Will the city allow the Silver Platter be demolished under such questionable circumstances? Will Angelenos accept that?

Update 6/25/2024: As the city finally coughs up a 2021 report claiming the Silver Platter doesn’t merit historic protection—for its streetcar associations!—the ABC shuts the bar down for a month. And Rev. Dylan Littlefield is planning a prayer vigil. Watch this space.

Update 7/7/2024: Retired Engineer Mike Callahan publishes a bombshell analysis of the alphabet soup of conflicting state and local housing laws, and expresses his informed opinion that despite what her office says, CEQA actually allows for councilmember Eunisses Hernandez to halt demolition until the threat to this historic resource can be properly assessed. This did not happen in 2021 when the development was approved, nor in 2024 when the demolition application was posted, and without it, the application is not truly “deemed complete.” Please email Councilmember.Hernandez@lacity.org or call her office at (213) 473-7001 and say “The demolition threatened Silver Platter at 2700 W. 7th Street is a legacy gay bar that matters to me, and under CEQA, the project has not been deemed complete and you have the power to halt demolition until it can be properly assessed as an historic resource. I am counting on Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez to follow the law and try to save this community landmark!”

Update 7/8/2024: As retired Engineer Mike Callahan was hashing out how CEQA can be invoked to protect the Silver Platter, he put together a policy paper advocating for a collaborative approach between councilmember Eunisses Hernandez and developer Nady Mahdavi Roussin. Phillip Zonkel reports on that proposal for Q Voice News, and describes how elected and appointed officials have dodged his interview requests for weeks. Plus, Kasey Conley, principal author of the “kiss of death” historic report dooming the Silver Platter, slammed the phone down when reached at her office in West Hollywood’s planning department!

Update 7/10/2024: LA Taco reports that while things look grim for the Silver Platter bar, presently closed by the ABC and facing demolition, there is still a clear path to save this queer landmark, and all it takes is for councilmember Eunisses Hernandez to try. Will she?

Psst… If you’d like to support our efforts to be the voice of places worth preserving, we have a tip jar and a subscriber edition of this newsletter, vintage Los Angeles webinars available to stream, in-person tours and a souvenir shop you can browse in. We’ve also got recommended reading bookshelves on Amazon and the Bookshop indie bookstore site. You can share this post to win subscriber perks. And did you know we offer private versions of our walking and bus tours for groups big or small? Or just share this link with other people who care.

Tour Gift Certificates


UPCOMING BUS & WALKING TOURS

Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice (Sat. 5/18) • Evergreen Cemetery, 1877 (Sat. 5/25) • POP – Preserving Our Past Featuring the Dutch Chocolate Shop (Sat. 6/1) • Westlake Park (Sat. 6/8) • Highland Park Arroyo (Sat. 6/15) • Film Noir / Real Noir (Sat. 6/29) • The Real Black Dahlia (Sat. 7/6) • Angelino Heights & Carroll Avenue (Sat. 7/13) • Miracle Mile Marvels and Madness (Sun. 7/21) • Know Your Downtown L.A.: Tunnels To Towers To The Dutch Chocolate Shop (Sat. 7/27) • Evergreen Cemetery, 1877 (Sun. 8/4) • West Adams Sugar Hill and Angelus Rosedale Cemetery (Sat. 8/10) • Broadway: Downtown Los Angeles’ Beautiful, Magical Mess (Sun. 8/25) • Raymond Chandler’s Noir Downtown Los Angeles (Sat. 8/31)


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