Friday, August 12, 2005

Dress Code Strictly Enforced

From the "Los Angeles Destroys Its Own History" file:

Friends, fellow Los Felizians, members of the media & other cool folks:

I am reaching out to inform you of a horrifying scheme now moving forward to demolish the world-famous Derby nightclub and adjacent Louise's restaurant and replace them with a generic five-story condo / retail development in the heart of wonderful little Los Feliz! With zero publicity and notice to neighborhood residents thus far, Woodland Hills-based Alder Realty Investments Inc. has purchased the property and is quietly navigating the zoning approval process necessary to carry out their dastardly plans.

I doubt I'll have to sell many people on the coolness and historical importance of the Derby in the Hollywood community. Built as the Willard's Chicken Inn restaurant circa 1928 -- with the backing of none other than longtime Los Feliz resident Cecil B. DeMille -- it eventually became one of the five legendary Brown Derbys where Tinseltown's elite gathered between 1940 and 1960. Joan Crawford famously tended bar there in 1945's "Mildred Pierce." And of course Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau memorably entered via the kitchen in 1996's "Swingers" -- helping to trigger a nationwide swing craze with the Derby as its indisputable epicenter. Whether you're into swing dancing or, like me, have enjoyed seeing local music acts play under its distinctive wooden dome in recent years, the Derby's place in the thriving local arts / nightlife community is unassailable. It's the Derby, for cryin' out loud!

This is the unique historical venue the developers feel they must destroy and replace with condos and chain retail space that could be found on any corner in any city in America. And with the Derby would die one more place in the world with a special character and energy all its own. Another piece of L.A. history gone forever. And that could be the beginning of the end for the Los Feliz we know and love, which is already fighting to hang onto its special vibe in the face of encroaching Starbucksization.

The good news: Resistance to the Development From Hell is already forming! Last night, I attended a meeting of the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council Planning/Zoning and Historic Preservation Committee -- an advisory board to the city of L.A. -- and I was encouraged to learn that a group of concerned local residents and Derby fans has begun organizing the Save the Derby Coalition to focus local opposition to this horrible idea. But they're going to need a lot of help to win this David-V.-Goliath battle.

As I understand the situation after the meeting last night, this thing is a freight train moving on well-lubricated rails toward a destination that will turn a fat buck for people who really, really love money. The only thing that will stop it is a loud outcry from the community -- loud enough to get the city council's attention and make them think twice about the cost-benefit ratio. They need to know a lot of people will be fighting mad about this or it's goodbye, Derby.

With that in mind, I urge anyone still reading this e-mail to:

E-MAIL L.A. CITY COUNCILMAN TOM LaBONGE (who represents the Los Feliz area) at:

As I understand it, LaBonge and the council are the crucial pressure point for this deal. While various committees will be weighing in over a long process, the development will ultimately require city approval to go through. If LaBonge and others on the council see the outcry against it as dangerous enough to themselves, the Derby just might be saved. So outcry today and outcry often! (LaBonge's website:

Members of the media: You know what to do.

The Save the Derby Coalition website and e-mail list should be operational soon.

The Derby's webpage on their history:,15

Alder Realty's webpage on their plans for the Derby property: