The Los Angeles Conservancy released a statement last week in support of Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Krekorian’s motion to initiate a Historic-Cultural Monument designation for the Oil Can Harry’s gay bar. The LGBTQ country western line-dancing bar located in Studio City announced it was closed for good at the beginning of this year after operating for 52 years.
“Earlier this year one of the longest, continuously operated gay bars in the county closed its doors. Oil Can Harry’s in Studio City, while humble on the outside, it’s an important part of L.A.’s LGTBQ+ heritage,” reads a statement by L.A. Conservancy. “As a longtime Valley dance club that allowed people to be themselves, it also protected its patrons during police raids and provided crucial community support and assistance during the AIDS epidemic.
The L.A. Conservancy is supporting Councilmember Paul Krekorian’s motion to initiate Historic-Cultural Monument designation for Oil Can Harry’s. You can help! Visit our website for instructions on how to submit comments and letters of support, as well as learn more about the history of this important LGBTQ+ institution: laconservancy.org/issues/oil-can-harrys#help-4.
The venue at 11502 Ventura Blvd., in Studio City, first opened as the Zomba Room in the 1950s. It was was a burlesque club until it changed its name to Oil Can Harry’s in 1968. From 1968 to 2021, Oil Can Harry’s remained in continuous operation making it one of the country’s longest operating LGBTQ+ bars. In June, City Council initiated a Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for the site after community members voiced concern about the fate of the now-shuttered club.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of change within the LGBTQ+ community. During that period the movement shifted its focus from educating mainstream society about sexual and gender identity to cultivating a politicized gay consciousness and building gay institutions.
Throughout its history, the Oil Can Harry’s gay bar played an important role for L.A.’s LGBTQ+ community. The bar protected its patrons during police raids by sounding a secret alarm signaling to same-sex dance partners to switch and mask as heterosexual couples. During the AIDS epidemic, Oil Can Harry’s hosted countless fundraisers for AIDS awareness and relief. Drag shows, garage sales, even car washes were used to raise funds to cover medical assistance, home supplies, and transportation costs for those in need.
Through the decades the Oil Can Harry’s gay bar remained a prominent watering hole for the country-western subculture of the LGBTQ+ community. As described in the ONE archive, “Oil Can Harry’s was a place customers could call their own regardless of interest in country-western, rodeo, disco, or leather, Oil Can Harry’s provided a secure space for queer patrons to mingle, dance, perform, and fundraise throughout some of the most formative periods of LGBTQ+ history.”
In April, 2021, Councilmember Paul Krekorian introduced a motion to initiate Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) designation for the site. The HCM is currently pending action by the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) and City Council.