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DOWNTOWN : Variety Arts Center Must Tone Down Act

The owners of the Variety Arts Center must take steps to cut down on noise and rowdy behavior after the city zoning board declared the dance club and theater a nuisance.

Complaining of gunfire, vandalism, car horns and rowdy crowds, managers of luxury high-rises and area hotels went before a zoning administrator in late October to urge action against the club at 940 South Figueroa St.

After hearing public testimony and acknowledging there had been more than 400 complaints reported in the area over the last two years, most related to excessive noise, the zoning administrator imposed several restrictions on the theater’s operation and ordered it to improve its security, said City Planner Ed Barr. The center lost its appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Dec. 20.

Club owner J.S. Sehdeva could not be reached for comment and the manager declined to be interviewed. They have the option of appealing the decision to the City Council.

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The club must now close at midnight except for 15 evenings per month, when it will be permitted to remain open until 2 a.m.

During late hours, it must keep its exterior doors and windows closed to prevent noise from filtering into the streets.

Allan Hernando, manager of the InneTowne Hotel across the street from the club, said he had tried to work things out amicably with the center’s management but did not receive a response.

“Everytime there is a party, there is so much noise. The kids come over here and go to the bathroom in my parking lot when they are waiting to get in,” Hernando said, adding that business at his hotel was hurt.

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Chris Scroggins, property manager for the nearby Metropolitan, a luxury apartment high-rise, said he hopes the restrictions will make a difference. He has moved into an apartment facing the center so he can make sure the club complies with the restrictions.

Scroggins said he favors reviving night life in Downtown, but added that the Variety Arts Center’s programming--mainly loud music--is not what he had in mind.

“None of my tenants attend any of their events,” said Scroggins.

The boisterous, youthful crowds that patronize the center are not the type he thinks Downtown should be trying to attract.

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Mayor Richard Riordan might disagree; he kicked off a major fashion show at the center last spring. And some high-rise residents have pointed to the center as a neighborhood highlight.

For most of its 70 years, the club was known as the Figueroa Playhouse. It hosted such vaudeville and Hollywood superstars as Ed Wynn, Dick Powell and Clark Gable.

Today, the marquee on the five-story, Italian Renaissance building proves that the venue is still hip.

In the past year, it has hosted a “progressive rock” marathon, the premiere of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s 18-minute film “Murder was the Case That They Gave Me,” stand-up comedians and a show introducing California designers’ fall fashions. On many weekend nights, the center becomes a dance club.

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Excessive noise and public safety problems are not unique to the Variety Arts Center. Many clubs are finding it necessary to heighten security.

The Palladium was closed by the City Council in February, 1993, after a series of incidents. After reopening two months later with tighter security provisions, trouble has been relatively infrequent.

The center has hired Dan Sullivan, who designed the security system for the Palladium, to supervise an overhaul of security at the venue.


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