Compiling the standout stories of 2021 in the creative city of West Hollywood was an undertaking. The happenings of this past year kept us busy. Below is a year in review of headlines from this past year.
2021 began with drama in the gay male population as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on. The claws were out in online catfights between the COVID-risking queens (remember #GaysOverCovid?) and WeHo gays with no qualms and plenty of time to out and shame any homo caught maskless, with a fresh professional haircut, or spotted in a crowd partying in Puerto Vallarta for White Party NYE. The trolling was endless on social media, and we were so there for it.
Actress Tonya Roberts died in January; the City Council approved a request to name the WeHo Library after RBG; flags flew at half-staff in honor of the U.S. Capitol Police Officers who lost their lives during the January 6 insurrection; we lost The Standard Hotel; Bossa Nova announced it was moving to the Sunset Strip; gay bars across the Greater Los Angeles Area sought the kindness of strangers via GoFundMe campaigns to stay afloat; LA County allowed outdoor dining and let hair and nail salons re-open at 25% capacity; and we had the first rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for 65 and older at the beginning of the year.
However, the biggest WeHo story of January didn’t really happen in West Hollywood, but has a WeHo connection, and is of interest to WeHo LGBTs: Shortly after announcing that gay country western bar Oil Can Harry’s had closed after serving the LGBT community for 52 years in Studio City, WEHO TIMES broke the news that Faultline bar had closed at its home location in Los Angeles after 26 years. We published photos showing that Faultline had indeed left the building, but much to our surprise, the owner of the leather-turned-drag bar, Ruby DeFresno (a WeHo resident), denied the closure with a statement saying our reporting was false. Her denial resulted in an immediate backlash from the nightlife community and loyal fans of the bar who called us fake news, despite damning evidence confirming our story. We stood by our findings and DeFresno stood by her statement, even after we later revealed that she removed the Judy Garland handprint from the building and put it in storage (scrawling Ruby on the fresh patch of cement was a nice touch). It is unclear if truth prevailed over denial and wishful thinking, but when the general media lists the gay bars that closed during the pandemic, Faultline bar is not on that list. Meanwhile, the Faultline remains non-existent over a year later.
In February, restaurants re-opened for outdoor dining and there were long lines of people hungry to be served, even if it was on a poorly balanced table out on a city sidewalk; the City accepted applications for a new social justice task force; Mayor Horvath presented Drew Barrymore with a key to the city for Drew’s birthday; Shake Shack WeHo was renovated, and PowerZone downsized and moved into the Capitol Drugs space.
The biggest story in February was the loss of former West Hollywood resident and long-time LGBT advocate Ivy Bottini, who died peacefully on Thursday, February 25, 2021. She had moved to Florida to live with her daughter. A memorial service took place at Kings Road Park the day after her death. Other memorial events took place throughout the year.
In March, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking tobacco in common areas and new units in multi-family-dwellings; the City moved forward with exploring installation of memorial for suicides in LGBTQ+ community; West Hollywood hosted a drive-thru food giveaway event; 24-Hour Fitness WeHo re-opened after being closed for a year; Lance Bass and partners at Rocco’s WeHo announced they signed a lease to launch a WeHo Mega Club at the former Rage space; and a Stop Asian Hate march took place in response to a rise in attacks against older Asian community members.
The biggest story for March was the announcement that West Hollywood City Manager Paul Arevalo was retiring. Arevalo had been with the city since 1990. He took the job of City Manager in 1999. Prior to becoming City Manager, he served as its Director of Finance.
April 1st began with a sales tax rate increase in West Hollywood from 9.50 percent to 10.25 percent; an annual “West Hollywood Green Week 2021” was inaugurated to bring awareness to environmental efforts; Mayor Lindsey Horvath announced her run for L.A. County Supervisor; Madonna dined at Craig’s; gay bars in WeHo remained closed despite lifted restrictions, ‘Studs’ gay porn theater re-opened, but sans the gay porn; Bossa Nova opened at its new location on the Sunset Strip; and the City Council began conversations on mandatory multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms in WeHo.
The biggest story for April was the launch of the controversial ‘Out on Robertson’ program. Out on Robertson had a soft launch on Saturday, April 17th. Robertson Boulevard was closed to vehicular traffic south of Santa Monica Blvd and north of Melrose Avenue on Saturdays and Sundays, angering many community members who noted the program mostly benefitted The Abbey Food & Bar and its sister bar The Chapel.
May began with go-go dancers back at The Abbey shaking their junk, but at a safe distance behind a velvet rope; the City gave The Abbey a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially kickoff the launch of Out on Robertson (community outrage continued); touchless crosswalk pushbuttons were installed; City Assistant Manager David Wilson was selected as the new City Manager; Farm Cup Coffee and Lazy Bird Smoothie & Juice Bar were welcomed to the neighborhood; the La Cienega Hotel went up for lease; Jewish diners were attacked at Sushi Fumi Restaurant near West Hollywood; a Free Mom Hugs caravan rode through Santa Monica Blvd for Harvey Milk Day; WeHo Arts unveiled Meringue Public Art Installation by Kiduck Kim at Beverly Hills Gateway; The Abbey celebrated 30 years; and Lady Gaga got a Key to the City during The Abbey’s 30 Year celebration.
The biggest story for May was the passing of Jeffrey Sanker, the CEO and Founder of the White Party in Palm Springs and other circuit party events. He died on Friday, May 28, 2021. The cause of death was liver cancer. He was 65.
June began with discussions of cannabis coming to the old Flaming Saddles space; Sunset Tower Records got the full 90s treatment for the shooting of Pam & Tommy Hulu mini-series; Pride Lives Here kicked off for WeHo Pride weekend where local businesses hosted a series of events; an unofficial Pride March celebrated early LGBT activism; WeHo Recovery Center and Log Cabin open for in-person meetings after more than a year; The L-Project hosted a ‘Women’s Freedom Festival’ virtual pride event; a poetry hotline provided free custom poems by Pride poets; Pride murals went up all over the City; and the City encouraged the public to get vaccinated.
The biggest story for the month of June was the groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of STORIES: The AIDS Monument in West Hollywood Park, hosted by The Foundation for The AIDS Monument. Among the speakers at the event commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the first CDC report related to AIDS, were actress and activist Sharon Stone, author and activist George Takei, and Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who first identified HIV while treating patients in Los Angeles. Other speakers included prominent LGBT/AIDS activists, Board members, and supporters of the Monument.
The month of July began with the City of West Hollywood announcing e-scooters and e-bikes were BAAA-ACK; the City sponsored a Black Pride event at Rocco’s WeHo; WEHO TIMES partied with rapper Iggy Azalea at Rocco’s WeHo; Micky’s had a grand re-opening party; mailboxes were broken into throughout West Hollywood; Ed Buck’s trial in the deaths of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean began; Britney Spears fans staged a Free Britney march on Santa Monica Boulevard; LA County re-instated its indoor masking mandate; LA County Sheriffs said they will not enforce the indoor masking mandate; The Out on Robertson program was taken OUT; a car crashed into the Rocky and Bullwinkle statue, causing minor damage; City Hall re-opened for limited in-person and by-appointment-only business; anti-vaxers protested outside of Harlowe restaurant for requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations (and things became violent); and The Abbey joined a growing list of businesses requiring proof of vaccination for entry.
A top news story on our list for July was the City Council’s 4-1 vote to approve controversial changes to protections for hotel workers, placing limits on the number of rooms housekeepers are required to clean per day while providing additional compensation for going beyond those limits.
However, the top, TOP story was Ed Buck being found guilty of all nine felony counts against him, including two for distribution of controlled substances resulting in death. Two gay men died of drug overdoses in his apartment on Laurel Avenue in West Hollywood. Gemmel Moore, 26, died on July 27, 2017, and Timothy Dean, 55, died on January 7, 2019. Buck pleaded not guilty to all the charges, but did not take the stand in his defense.
The month of August began with World Dog Day 2021 at WeHo Park; WeHo Neighborhood Watch Groups hosted block parties for National Night Out; anti-vaxers targeted The Abbey for their proof of vaccination policy; the Neon Diver statue returned to WeHo Park; the Sal Guarriello Veteran’s Memorial fountain was damaged in a car collision; the City adopted a resolution opposing recall of Governor Newsom; news broke that Or Bar – “or” meaning “gold” in French – was coming to the former Gold Coast Bar space (it promises to be uppity and fancy); and Stache WeHo opened at the former Café D’Etoile space.
Top story for August was actually a series of stories surrounding a woman who alleged she was drugged by a bartender at The Abbey and immediately called for a boycott. The woman retracted her accusation after seeing surveillance video, and The Abbey filed a $1 million lawsuit against said woman who later suggested she may have been drugged by one of its bartenders after all. She then she accused The Abbey of victim-shaming and bullying in response to the lawsuit.
September began with elected officials hosting a rally for reproduction rights at WeHo Park, protesting Texas’s new anti-abortion law; a new digital Welcome to West Hollywood sign was installed at Sunset Blvd and Phyllis Street; Bi Pride March was cancelled; 24-Hour Fitness WeHo announces its November 30th closing; Hollywood Burger opened in WeHo; Gym Sportsbar and Grill opened in new location; Rise for and With the Women of Afghanistan demonstration marched through WeHo; and we got a sneak peek at Parallel Perpendicular art exhibit at the new (yet to be opened) WeHo Park.
The big story for September was the swearing-in of new West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister and Mayor Pro-Tempore Sepi Shyne at West Hollywood’s annual City Council Reorganization and Installation meeting; former Council member John Heilman swore Mayor Meister in and California Democratic Secretary Melahat Rafiei, swore-in Sepi Shyne as the city’s new Mayor Pro Tem. Shyne became the first Iranian, first woman of color, and first lesbian to serve as Mayor Pro Tem of West Hollywood.
The month of October began with a man being struck by a drunk driver on Santa Monica Boulevard; we discovered that historical Tail O’ The Pup is coming back to WeHo; we revealed that El Pollo Loco and El Zarape Mexican restaurants are coming to WeHo; Optique, by Cynthia & Christine, was robbed; a woman was fatally shot on Santa Monica Blvd in WeHo; in-person City Council meetings made their way back to the West Hollywood Council Chambers with limited attendance; Five Guys Burgers left West Hollywood; Kat Von D’s High Voltage Tattoo Studio in WeHo is also on its way out.
The big story for October was the cancellation of West Hollywood’s Halloween Carnaval and how that did not stop people from dressing up and gathering in massive number’s at WeHo’s LGBT Rainbow District.
November began with news that WeHo’s Rainbow crosswalks will be replaced with a Pride Progress Crosswalk incorporating black and brown stripes and the colors of the trans pride flag; the 36th Los Angeles Marathon made its way through WeHo; The Sunset Strip time warped back to the 1970s for upcoming “Daisy Jones and the Six” series; the City celebrated Transgender Awareness Month; the City of West Hollywood won LAEDC’s Most Business-Friendly City Award; WeHo turned 37 years-old; a judge tossed The Abbey’s defamation claim against the woman who alleged she was drugged by its bartender; 24-Hour Fitness Sport WeHo officially closed its doors on November 30th.
The big story for November was a city-wide minimum wage increase to $17.64, including 96 hours of paid sick leave and other benefits. At its regular November meeting, the West Hollywood City Council voted unanimously to establish the new measure aligning West Hollywood hotel workers with those in Santa Monica and Los Angeles who have earned $17.64 since July of this year. The wage will also increase for workers in all other industries.
The COVID-19 variant Omicron pushed City Council meetings back to virtual format after one in-person meeting; follow-home robberies made headlines; rape allegations raised questions on sexual assault protocols in WeHo; Fubar owner announced a new gay bar is coming to WeHo at the old Gym Bar space; WeHo’s Aquatic and Recreation Center earned LA architecture award in the “Under Construction” category; we interviewed founder and lead singer of The Go Gos, Belinda Carlisle, before she hosted a fundraiser benefiting her Animal People Alliance organization; and the #BOOM!, the alcohol and drug-free New Year’s Eve Party, went virtual to close out the year.
A top story was the reorganization of West Hollywood City Hall with several top-level personnel changes, including a newly named Deputy City Manager and the ouster of Communications Manager Lisa Belsanti. The reorganization will also see several shifts in division oversight, effective January 3, 2022.
HOWEVER we have a tie for the top, TOP story ending 2021: the month of December saw the passing of gothic fiction author Anne Rice, who died of a stroke, and of course, the passing of Golden Girl Betty White, who died of natural causes just weeks before her 100th birthday celebration.
A lot more happened in West Hollywood in 2021, but these are the highlights. Let’s see what 2022 has in store.
HAPPY NEW YEAR West Hollywood!