City officials Monday approved a zoning permit allowing a long-established bondage parlor to set up shop with whips and chains in a former bakery in North Hollywood, the first such permit for a sadomasochist establishment.
The Club, Chateau will be granted a conditional use permit but must abide by 19 strict rules to ensure that "whatever goes on inside can't be heard outside," said Andrew B. Sincosky, an associate zoning administrator for Los Angeles.
The neighborhood "shouldn't feel anything in the way of impact" from the club, Sincosky said, releasing his findings to an empty hall at the Van Nuys Woman's Club.
The Club, Chateau patrons pay $100 for 30-minute "submission and dominance" sessions with female "mistresses." The sessions can include the client or woman employee being bound with chains or ropes and perhaps whipped.
The Chateau moved into the unused bakery in the 7000 block of Atoll Avenue, in an industrial neighborhood, in March after zoning regulations forced it to move from a house in Hollywood.
It has used at least two other locations during its 15-year existence, according to its owner, James D. Hillier. But it has not had zoning permits previously. Other businesses classed as "adult entertainment" have been granted such permits, but not sadomasochist parlors, Sincosky said.
"To my knowledge, this is the first adult entertainment use of this type that's actually been approved in the city of Los Angeles," he said.
At a public hearing last month, protests against issuance of the permit came from residents of a nearby mobile-home park, local police and members of the Living Word, a religious organization that owns a building across the street from the club.
Members of the Living Word and an aide to Councilman Joel Wachs argued that the club violated a city ordinance prohibiting adult entertainment establishments within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood or church.
But Sincosky determined that the building owned by the Living Word, which houses a studio that produces religious music and literature, was not a church under city law and that the mobile-home park does not qualify as a residential neighborhood.
"The bottom line is the City Council has said we're going to regulate these uses by certain criteria," Sincosky said. "I had no choice but to approve it."
Wachs' planning aide, Tom Henry, said the councilman was disappointed with the decision and would support any appeal by residents of the mobile-home park or the Living Word.
"There have already been problems and they've only been there for six months," Henry said. "I've gotten one complaint of people seeing women outside with whips hitting the ground."
Hillier said he was pleased by the decision and was skeptical of Henry's statement. "All of our activities take place inside," he said.
Hillier says the club has about 4,000 members. It provides "encounter rooms," decorated in themes such as the Spanish Inquisition or Victorian England and named after famous writers of sadomasochistic literature. Hillier has said customers do not actually engage in sex, but in "psychodramas" and "consensual exchange of authority" with the women employees.
In the past, the club's neighbors complained of hearing screams and moans, and argued that the establishment attracted a seedy element.
Under conditions of the permit issued Monday, noise must not be audible outside. The club must have two security guards on duty while the club is operating, from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily. No alcohol can be served or live entertainment presented, and the club may not include its address in advertisements. Hillier promised that the club would not have more than 15 employees on the grounds at a time.
Renee Dorion, who owns a costume shop across the street from the club, said the area was safe before the club arrived, but she now fears for her employees, who are almost all female.
"I'm not going to feel comfortable letting them walk down to their cars at night," she said.