Faring Capital, the West Hollywood-based real estate and development company, hosted a show and a dance party at The Factory building, to celebrate and say goodbye to the old historical Studio One gay disco, this past Saturday, November 9, in the heart of WeHo’s Boystown.
The “Back to the Backlot: A Studio One Celebration and Farewell” began at the Penthouse Nightclub, which used to house the old Backlot Theatre at Studio One. Then attendees moved to what is currently The Robertson nightclub, for a nostalgic dance party at what used to be the actual Studio One gay disco.
The Backlot show was produced by Lloyd Coleman, Gary Steinberg and Chris Isaacson (Coleman and Steinberg both date back to productions at Studio One in the 1980s). It was hosted by six-time Emmy Award-winner Bruce Vilanch and feature appearances by some of the Backlot’s most memorable entertainers, including Madame (the puppet made famous by the late Wayland Flowers), and led by Musical Director Mitchell Kaplan, with the Backlot Band featuring, Maurice Gainen, Kirsh Kirsch, and Richard Martinez. It was all filmed to be part of a Studio One documentary being directed by Marc Saltarelli.
Other entertainers for the night included: Clifford Bell, Angela Carole Brown, Ricky Comeaux, Charlo Crossley Fortier, Lori Donato, Grammy Award-winner Thelma Houston (Don’t Leave Me This Way), Paul Jacek, Jay Joseph, Beth Lapides, Irina Maleeva, Billy Masters, Steve Masterson, Gary Mortimer, The Original Sin Sisters, Grammy Award-nominee Freda Payne (Band of Gold), The Perines, Monica Piper, Allan Rich, Jere Ring, Suzie Rose, Denise Rosner, Liz Torres, Cheril Vendetti, and Wayne & Brenda.
Guests reminisced, shared stories, and reconnected with old regulars and former employees from Studio One. West Hollywood council members John Duran and John Heilman were seen on the floor dancing with a roomful of familiar faces from the past. The DJ mainly played 70s music throughout the night. There was also a special performance by disco legend Thelma Houston, who belted her hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”
“I have great memories, but generally if you say you were at Studio One, and you remember it, you really weren’t there,” Bruce Vilanch told WEHO TIMES. “That’s because there were too many chemical additives. It was probably better that way.”
“It was wonderful to see people who are still around, get up and sing,” He said of The Backlot party. “It was also wonderful to pay attention to all the people who are gone. This was a real gathering place back in the day and it’s good to note that. It’s been ages since I was here. I couldn’t even begin to tell you. It would have to be about 15 years ago. Everything looks so different.”
Vilanch added that it’s hard to miss something that’s been closed for so long.
“That whole era is gone,” he said. “You no longer have to come here to meet people. You can just go on an app. They eliminated climbing those stairs, which was always good for me [laughs]. Let’s see what it becomes.”
The Factory building was originally used as a Norden bombsight facility during World War 2. In 1968 the building was bought and transformed into The Factory nightclub, named after the furniture manufacturing business in the lower floor of the building. The Factory became a popular 1960s-style disco that was frequented by Hollywood celebrities, but it only lasted a few years. Studio One was founded on the same site in the early-to-mid 1970s by part-owner Scott Forbes. In the 1990s, it was bought by Sandy Sachs and renamed to Axis. It went back to its original name, The Factory, in the early 2000s, and is now known as “The Robertson.” Throughout its history, the club has been associated with the gay rights movement. In the early 1980s, Studio One hosted one of the nation’s first major fundraisers for AIDS research.
Faring plans to demolish more than 60 percent of the historic building and replace it with a 114-foot, 241-room hotel and retail complex with 750 underground parking spaces. The Factory will also be dismantled, moved, reassembled, and the remains of the building will be repositioned to stand parallel to Robertson Boulevard. The future of the building will be similar to the great Carthay Circle Theater that was once located on the southwest corner of San Vicente and Crescent Heights. It opened in 1926 and was demolished in 1969. A smaller replica was constructed at Disney’s California Adventure. It’s nice to look for its nostalgic value, but it is nowhere near the real deal.
This writer is grateful to have been a regular at Studio One during the tail end of its heyday, which lasted into the early-to-mid 90s. I came of age at this gay hot spot where I danced to 90s music and kissed several boys in the dimly lit and intimate backlot. I also remember the front stairs leading to the front bar of the disco very fondly.
The notoriously gay disco may be gone for good, but it will not be forgotten.