Another vital L.A. music space is being forced out of its longtime home.
Pehrspace, the all-ages DIY gallery and venue in Echo Park that has long served as an incubator for experimental music, posted a copy of a letter it received on Monday notifying it that the lease would be terminated in 60 days. The news comes just a week after the Smell, the downtown DIY institution, shared news that a demolition notice had been left on its door. (A representative of the company that owns the Smell’s building told L.A. Weekly it has no immediate plans to bring down the building.)
Pauline Lay runs Pehrspace, which occupies a corner unit in a decaying, mostly empty strip mall on Glendale Boulevard, a couple blocks south of the 101 freeway. She began to suspect changes were afoot when she received a notice on May 27 telling her to write checks to a new landlord.
Lay also said she had noticed the businesses on her block shutting down and moving out. TiGeorges’ Chicken, the famous Haitian restaurant that occupied a space on the far side of the same strip mall, left in March.
That unit remains empty.
The property management company listed on the notice passed our questions on to the building's owner, who could not be reached directly. Lay said she wants to find a new home for Pehrspace. She's working with Jim Smith, owner of the Smell, and a real estate agent to find new homes for both their institutions, she said.
“A lot of people associate [Pehrspace] with the actual space,” she said, sitting on a short flight of stairs leading up to the Pehrspace sound booth, which she helmed on Monday night. “But it will keep going. The spirit will keep going.” Lay said the changes may present an opportunity for Pehrspace to go nonprofit, which would offer greater access to financial help — particularly grant money.
“This will be a chance to start fresh, in a new space,” she said. She's confident the organization can manage the transition out of the space it has grown into for 10 years. “It’s not like we’re teenagers.”
Pehrspace has been fostering young and experimental acts at the Echo Park space since 2006, when the indie Pehr Label first moved in. Lay, who began as a Pehr Label intern, took over full management of the organization sometime after original Pehrspace owner Adam Hervey had a stroke in 2013. Hervey still technically owns the space.
For local musicians and artists, Pehrspace presents an opportunity to try out new work in front of a supportive audience. Bands that know where they're going can refine their work; bands whose music is taking shape have a safe place to fumble their way forward. The space provides a platform accessible to anyone with the guts to put their art in front of their friends.
From 2007 to 2014, booker Sean Carnage presented Monday night shows at the venue. “Pehrspace was the meeting place — the church — for every genius artist who couldn’t get love anywhere else,” Carnage wrote in an email to the Weekly. “I’m queer and it was a priority for me to make sure that every person of every orientation [or] heritage was included and encouraged. It’s really hard to get a gig in this town. Everyone needs a place where they can let their hair down and do their thing.”
Carnage says that it's difficult to pick a favorite from the hundreds of acts he booked, but one night stands out. “The night that my favorite actor, Val Kilmer, came down and introduced Future Islands and Dan Deacon — who broke through to the mainstream playing Pehr — has to be amongst the highlights.”
On a Monday night this week, attendees of a small indie-rock show packed into the gallery and out to the parking lot. Tara Milch, who performs under the name Pastel Felt, strummed a growling, reverberating Fender Jaguar and sang in a soft drone, her intonation floating toward the ceiling, the words indiscernible.
“Pehrspace is like an extension of home,” Milch said. “The community aspect is big. As far as developing your music, it's very supportive.”
Milch said the venue feels like a thing of rare beauty in an age where it can be more convenient to connect online. “If you really want community, it can be found in these spaces,” said Milch, who has played Pehrspace a handful of times. “You go there and volunteer and make friends and get involved, and you can join in by playing music. [L.A. is] such a virtual city, and so much happens in media, or in people's cars. So it is really important to have these spaces where there's an actual community that doesn't just exist on the internet.”
A pink light glowed behind Milch as she performed Monday night; a bundle of wires, painted over, ran up the wall. After all its years of occupancy, Pehrspace still feels haunted by the ghosts of some long-abandoned warehouse office. The audience sat cross-legged on the concrete floor.
Between songs, Milch suddenly blurted out: “I adore this place.”