Hollywood is being Sunset-stripped.
Clubs and eateries long associated with the Sunset Strip are being told they are no longer a part of the world-famous hipster haven and don’t have the right to use its 70-year-old nickname.
The “Sunset Strip” is their property, West Hollywood leaders say. And the name should not be applied to the stretch of Sunset Boulevard that extends east of their city into neighboring Hollywood.
“Sunset Strip -- Only in West Hollywood” proclaim 120 new banners that hang from streetlights along the 1.7-mile length of boulevard that runs through the tiny town’s city limits.
The banners and the slogan are part of a “branding” campaign devised by West Hollywood business owners, city officials and leaders of the West Hollywood Convention and Visitors Bureau. But the name claim is angering those at the edge of West Hollywood, near the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards -- where some of the Sunset Strip’s most evocative moments have occurred.
“West Hollywood is lunatic to do this,” said Jamie Masada, founder and owner of the Laugh Factory, a Hollywood comedy club that has operated a few steps from the intersection for 25 years and has always considered itself part of the Sunset Strip.
“The Sunset Strip has traditionally started at Sunset and Fairfax, so this is part of the Sunset Strip,” Masada said. “So much has happened here. History speaks for itself.”
West Hollywood leaders claim they are merely protecting their city’s most identifiable asset by taking steps to prevent Los Angeles from hijacking the Sunset Strip’s aura. Brad Burlingame, president of the West Hollywood Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he cringed last month when a story about West Hollywood’s landmark Sunset Strip hotel, the Argyle, was datelined “Hollywood” by the New York Times.
“It’s frustrating when West Hollywood is misidentified,” Burlingame said. “If they said Rodeo Drive is in Los Angeles, people in Beverly Hills would have a fit.”
The dispute underscores an identity crisis that has long faced 20-year-old West Hollywood, a 2-square-mile city sandwiched between wealthy Beverly Hills and gritty Hollywood.
As it snakes along the northern edge of West Hollywood past eye-catching billboards, high-rise super graphics and rows of clubs and restaurants, Sunset Boulevard connects Beverly Hills’ mansions on the west with Hollywood’s strip malls and entertainment-industry companies on the east.
West Hollywood city leaders have tried to capitalize on the boulevard’s tax-producing capability. They drew up a 254-page Sunset Boulevard Specific Plan in 1996 and have worked since then to amp up the street’s image as an eclectic playground where visitors can find chic restaurants, trendy shops and cutting-edge clubs.
“A city as big as Los Angeles is confusing to everyone. And West Hollywood’s borders are very difficult to understand,” Burlingame added.
But some of the landmarks most associated with the strip are actually outside West Hollywood’s city limits -- including the hotel where John Belushi died of a drug overdose and the site of the drugstore where legend has it Lana Turner was discovered.
To some, in fact, the real history of the Sunset Strip is tied to the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights -- two blocks east of West Hollywood.
That’s where the original Garden of Allah Hotel opened in the 1920s to lure the likes of actors Gloria Swanson, Ramon Navarro, Clara Bow and Rudolf Valentino for Prohibition-flaunting fun and games. It was that atmosphere that stimulated creation of nearby boulevard clubs such as the Cafe Trocadero, Ciro’s and Mocambo in the 1930s and early ‘40s.
Schwab’s drugstore, a hangout for film writers and renowned as the place where starlets supposedly sipped soda fountain drinks while waiting to be discovered, was directly across the street from the Garden of Allah.
Later, the intersection found itself in the center of the transition of the Sunset Strip from a playground of the coat-and-tie jazz crowd to a destination for today’s jeans and rock-music set.
By the mid-1960s, free-spirited hippies had moved in and drug use was rampant along the boulevard. Bands such as Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Jim Morrison’s the Doors drew younger crowds to rock clubs that sprang up along the Sunset Strip.
In 1966, a small rock club called Pandora’s Box on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights was the site of protests after authorities imposed a 10 p.m. curfew for those under 18. Authorities said they acted to control growing crowds of youngsters spilling out of the club and into Sunset Strip traffic.
After several confrontations between youths and police outside the club, Los Angeles officials bulldozed Pandora’s Box and built a right-turn traffic lane there. The episode led to a 1967 teen-exploitation movie, “Riot on Sunset Strip.”
Schwab’s was replaced in the late 1980s by a shopping center that houses a Virgin Records “megastore,” which promotes itself as being “on the famous Sunset Strip ... where Hollywood and worldwide culture collide.”
Just west of the corner is Chateau Marmont, the castle-like hotel that is a favorite with film stars and other luminaries and is best known to some as the place where Belushi died. It’s a few steps inside the Los Angeles city limits, which apparently means its guests can no longer boast they are staying on the Sunset Strip, according to West Hollywood’s interpretation.
Outsiders, however, seem likely to continue identifying the Sunset Strip as extending deeply into Hollywood -- perhaps well past Fairfax Avenue, according to Rodney Bingenheimer, the much-heralded “Mayor of the Sunset Strip.”
Bingenheimer, a Los Angeles radio DJ and the subject of a recent movie called “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” operated a 1970s rock-star hangout on the boulevard near Fairfax. His English Disco regularly attracted the likes of David Bowie, members of Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop and Joan Jett.
Bingenheimer is outraged by West Hollywood’s name-grab. He noted that Schwab’s, which closed in 1986, is scheduled to reopen as a restaurant near Sunset and Vine -- at a site that once more is outside of West Hollywood’s clutches.
“The Sunset Strip is part of Hollywood too,” Bingenheimer said. “It really belongs to everyone. It’s history. West Hollywood can’t take the name.”
To further delineate what it considers the true “Sunset Strip,” West Hollywood is also considering building a more formal entrance “gateway” to West Hollywood along the boulevard.
But the visitors bureau’s Burlingame said he does not envision West Hollywood flexing its muscle against Hollywood businesses that continue associating themselves with the Sunset Strip.
“We’ve taken steps to protect our brand. But I think frankly it would be crazy to be so aggressive as to undertake litigation over a business calling itself West Hollywood when it’s not,” he said.
Those in Hollywood will still be watching.
“It would be interesting if they did try to enforce the brand,” said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce -- an organization that zealously guards its own registered Hollywood Walk of Fame name.
Gubler said West Hollywood’s new banners are not visible from Hollywood. But a large entrance gate at the West Hollywood city limits would be. And it would likely irritate its neighbors to the east.
Still, Gubler said he can see where West Hollywood is coming from.
“We used to get our dander up when the Academy Awards were held at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles and they would say on television, ‘Reporting from Hollywood ... ' ,” he said.