”Neighbors are pretty good at ratting on other people,“ Sergio Valdez assured an appreciative audience in the echoey Silverlake Recreation Center last week. The city transportation engineer offered these encouraging words at a preferred-parking hearing, in response to a questioner who had raised the specter of counterfeit parking permits. If the proposed Preferential Parking District No. 98 is approved, the nine-block area in question would be the first such zone in Silver Lake, heretofore known for its freewheeling ways and bohemian spirit, but which is now home to a residents‘ revolt against the Spaceland rock club.
The reason for the neighborhood’s discomfiture is a familiar Los Angeles story: The 5-year-old Spaceland has inflicted upon its residential neighbors an unwelcome level of noise, ribald behavior and — the ultimate horror — parking inconvenience. It is the classic L.A. conflict between entertainment commerce and homeowners, one that other communities, mostly those west of La Brea Avenue, usually settle by making their streets off-limits to nonresidents at night. But this wasn‘t Lexus Land, this was Silver Lake — wasn’t it? It quickly became apparent at last week‘s hearing, though, that parking wasn’t the neighbors‘ only gripe, as speaker after speaker complained about public urination, vomiting, vandalism and the odd gunshot.
”After 2 a.m. we get slamming doors and craziness!“ one speaker said. Others, who come home at night after working late, admitted to having to time their parking searches between band sets, a time when some of the musicians’ friends or fans inevitably leave the club.
The push for permit parking was spearheaded by a half-dozen activists who handed the city a petition signed by well over the 67 percent of residents affected by the proposal. The Department of Transportation then conducted nighttime surveys of the neighborhood and, through license-plate checks, found that typically between 50 and 100 percent of the parked cars were from outside the area.The department has yet to make its formal recommendation to the City Council, which is the ultimate arbiter in the matter. If the petitioners win the right to restrict parking between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., they will pay $15 annually for this privilege, with variations available for guest-permit passes.
As now proposed, the restricted-parking zone would stretch from Silver Lake Boulevard to Westerly Terrace, and from Effie Street to Van Pelt Place. One speaker even suggested that Sunset Boulevard would be the proposed district‘s ”more natural“ southern boundary.
”I would love to see a neighborhood bar here,“ petition-drive co-organizer Sarah A. Bradshaw told the Weekly, ”but these people come slamming in here around quarter to 10, park in front of fire hydrants and sometimes block driveways.“ Bradshaw, a deputy to West Hollywood Councilman Steve Martin, guesses she has suffered about $3,000 in property damage because of Spaceland-spawned hooliganism — behavior that is inflicted not only by rowdy clubgoers but, she said, by outsiders who often prey upon them. ”These [clubgoers] come in with leather jackets and $200 in their pockets, and others go after them because they’re easy pickings.“
Some speakers at the community gathering wondered if more space could be had if residents used their garages or if the city opted to install angled parking slots on Silver Lake Boulevard; one woman asked Valdez and the three other members of his team of officials how the city could know which cars belonged to Spaceland patrons. Still, there seemed little doubt among those present in the room that 1717 Silver Lake Blvd. was the guilty magnet, and the only real dissent was expressed by people wanting to extend preferential parking beyond the original petition‘s request to cover their own streets.
Horst Wolfram, Spaceland’s proprietor, would seem an unlikely villain in all this; he has owned the club building since 1967 and adjacent properties for 20 years and, as he ambled to the front of the center in a ski sweater, came across as someone‘s bewildered Bavarian uncle. He may as well have been Eddie Nash as far as most of the 60 people present were concerned, however, and his vague, disingenuous-sounding pledge to look into expanding the club’s valet-parking service was met with derisive howls.
”I know it‘s not necessarily nice to live next to a nightclub,“ Wolfram told the Weekly later, ”but we’re probably one of the reasons this neighborhood has bloomed.“ One person torn by the hearings was Richard Shelter, a junior partner in Applause ticketing service. ”I‘m an original punk,“ he explained later. ”I’ve managed and deejayed clubs. When I promoted shows in Miami Beach, I met the same neighborhood resistance. So I hired some Miami Beach police officers for security outside, and that kept everyone happy.“ He also worked briefly as Wolfram‘s security man a few years ago and currently rents an apartment a bottle’s throw from Spaceland.
”The club is basically a victim of its own success,“ Shelter said. ”I have vociferously defended Spaceland as part of the culture of Silver Lake. But I‘ve seen kids fucking, fighting, pissing on people’s property. As an old rocker and biker, I feel bad [about pressuring a club], but everyone feels this has to stop.“
Ironically, the so-called Silver Lake scene, which had been so celebrated only a few years ago, seems to be waning, and even Bradshaw admits that Spaceland is no longer the big draw it once was. ”We get the dregs now, the people just getting here from Detroit,“ she said. ”And so many drive these 1970s beasts that can‘t fit into parking spots and which require an hour to warm up.“
Jorge Ledezma has lived 28 of his 30 years in the Spaceland neighborhood, and has worked at the club as a bartender for nearly 10; before him, his father worked there for 14 years. He remembers a time when the neighborhood was actually a far rougher-edged place and when the Spaceland site served as a Top 40 club — and gang magnet. ”In those days,“ Ledezma said, ”it wasn’t a matter of if a fight would break out in the club, but when.“ His appeal for a dialogue between his boss and the public was met with either stony silence or heckling. ”They didn‘t see me as a member of the community,“ Ledezma told the Weekly, ”but as a member of the evil empire, shouting at me as I was leaving.“
Los Angeles has seen a proliferation of neighborhoods covered by restricted parking. On the one hand, it’s difficult not to sympathize with someone whose driveway is occasionally blocked, or with a street‘s longtime residents who wake up one morning following the latest club opening, only to find haystacks of syringe needles on their lawns or their cars tagged by graffiti vandals. On the other hand, there is the nagging feeling that such parking restrictions, which, for the most part, are confined to middle- and upper-middle-class communities, are undemocratic and contribute to the social and ethnic isolation of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods. What‘s next — restricted rights of way? Living in a city has always entailed a certain acceptance of noise and unpleasantness — Silver Lake isn’t Canyon Country, after all.
When asked about such concerns, the pro-permit forces deny similarities between their situation and those of people who buy homes above the boisterous Sunset Strip and then complain about noise and parking; nor, they claim, do they want to balkanize Silver Lake.
”These people bought their homes years ago,“ Shelter said of the pro-permitters, ”when [the Spaceland location] was a quiet neighborhood pub. You can discuss elitism, or young Silver Lake vs. old Silver Lake, but let‘s get real — this is about standard-of-life issues. The bottom line is that we came here first.“
Club owner Wolfram conceded that ”I should have done something“ about the parking, and said that he’s getting estimates to pave over a nearby dirt lot he owns, which he says would provide room for 40 to 50 cars. But he added: ”I have my own rights too — to remain in business. These people have the audacity to say they‘re going to close me down.“
Ledezma, the Spaceland bartender, is not so sure that parking is the end-all of the matter. ”They have a problem with the club,“ he said of the petitioners, ”but their solution is very shortsighted. They want to turn it into another West Hollywood or Brentwood, but people don’t want that — Silver Lake‘s always been a welcoming neighborhood.“