[Update, Tuesday, May 31: The Smell has issued an official statement regarding the demolition notice, which you can read below, and has also launched a $1.4 million GoFundMe campaign to fight the demolition plans and/or purchase a new location for the venue.]
An L.A. DIY institution could soon be reduced to rubble.
On Saturday morning, Jim Smith, owner of storied downtown all-ages venue the Smell, posted a picture on Facebook and Instagram of a demolition notice posted outside the venue Friday evening. The notice says an application to demolish the venue's one-story building has been filed with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety by the property's owner, L&R Group of Companies, an L.A. firm that owns and operates parking lots. Calls made to L&R Group were not immediately returned.
Smith says he hasn't been able to uncover any more information since he received the notice. But he isn't particularly surprised about it, either; when he found out the building was sold to L&R last year, “we were thinking, these are bad signs.”
Smith said all the buildings on the Smell's block on Main Street received the same notice Friday. That would include, among others, the Downtown Independent, an indie cinema, and the New Jalisco Bar, a renowned local dive and cultural institution in its own right. Calls to both establishments were not immediately returned.
A representative with L.A. County who looked up the permit number on Saturday afternoon said the permit had not yet been approved, and that the notice had been posted as part of the permit process.
The Smell originally moved to its current spot in downtown L.A. in October of 1999, after it was priced out of then-gentrifying North Hollywood. Back then, downtown L.A. was something of a burnt-out no-man's land — far from the popular culture and nightlife destination it's become today.
Response to the news spread rapidly via social media over Memorial Day weekend. “Let's organize a fucking strike and chain ourselves to it idgaf,” one Instagram user responded to the news. Others were optimistic about the fate of the institution, if not its current brick-and-mortar home. “All that really means is that now there is another chapter in music for the Smell,” another user said.
For his part, Smith says he'll relocate if he has to, but prefers to stay put. “There's always the final option of relocating and trying to find another space,” he says. “But there's a lot of history in this particular space, and we'd love to stay here and keep that going.”
The Smell has become famous not just in L.A., but nationwide, for nurturing countless local punk, indie and experimental acts throughout its 18-year run in its current home. Bands as various as proggers Upsilon Acrux and punk rockers Abe Vigoda have made the Smell their long-term home. Many, like No Age and Best Coast, have moved on to national renown. (For years, the words “No Age” and “Weirdo Rippers,” painted on the building's facade in 2007 for an album cover, made the Smell its own kind of curious downtown landmark.)
The venue remains a sanctuary for the young and the weird, long refusing to serve alcohol in order to maintain its all-ages status and its legendary good vibes. In January, when the Smell marked its 18th birthday, a truly all-ages crowd packed in to see Ty Segall, long-time scene stalwarts Busdriver and Very Be Careful, and French Vanilla, a younger indie rock act. The place appropriately reeks of passion and history, with a staff of enthusiastic volunteers, a bare-bones sound system, and walls covered with murals. It's the kind of lived-in habitat that loyal denizens won't be giving up without a fight.
[Update: On Tuesday, May 31, the Smell issued the following statement regarding the demolition notice:
Late Friday afternoon, The Smell, along with most of our neighbors on the 200-block of Main Street, were surprised to learn that the owners of our building, L&R Group of Companies, had, without warning, posted demolition notices on all of our businesses. As of this press release, no other information has been made available by either the building owners or the city, and there has been no indication as to how imminent this demolition is, or how much time we have to continue to operate.
Since Saturday, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, from people sharing memories, lodging protests, taking personal action and initiative, to offers assistance and advice. The response has been nothing short of inspirational. Volunteers met over the weekend and decided that it is vital to the overall cultural well-being of Los Angeles, that The Smell continue to exist and to move forward. In our view, The Smell has always been a community more than a physical space, and we will do whatever is necessary to assure that this community continues to thrive – if not in its present location, then in a new location suitable to its needs.
As of today, we are launching a Gofundme campaign to raise money to take on this fight, and if necessary, to raise the capital required to purchase a new location, so that we never have to go through a crisis like this again. Details are posted on our website about how the community can help and get involved – both financial and otherwise.
We also ask that you take the time to sign a petition and share testimonials that we can present to the building owners and the city – the more signatures and testimonials, the better.
As stated earlier in this press release, we do not currently have any details beyond the demolition notice, but we plan on trying to clear that up with the building owners and the city as soon as possible. As new information becomes available, we will share it publicly.
The Smell is more alive than ever and we thank everyone in the community for being a part of it throughout our 18+ year history.
All upcoming shows, petition, and gofundme infomation is available at thesmell.org.]