Los Angeles LGBT Center: We don’t care about gay Latino history

Circus Disco was the oldest, and longest-running LGBTQ Latino nightclub in Hollywood and Los Angeles. For 40 years, it was not only a place to socialize and have fun, but also a sanctuary for the Latino LGBTQ community to develop a sense of identity, community and social support. Club owner Gene La Pietra sold the club and property for almost $75 million to a developer that demolished it for a 786-condo development. An impressive group of activists fought to help preserve Circus Disco, but one LGBTQ group was suspiciously absent. Photo: Q Voice News. Photo: LA Conservancy.

HOLLYWOOD — Circus Disco was across the street from the Los Angeles LGBT Center for many years, and no doubt many Center staff, volunteers and clients spent some time under the big top dancing the night away, socializing in a safe space with friends and lovers and learning about the queer community.

But when local activists were working to have the iconic gay-Latino nightclub recognized as a historic cultural landmark, the Center did not join the community effort. It refused to get involved.

ACROSS THE STREET

Hollywood Heritage lead the effort in the fall of 2015 and early 2016 to have Circus Disco designated a historic cultural monument by Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Commission and received letters of support from the West Hollywood Heritage Project, the Los Angeles Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, among others. However, the Center didn’t even write a letter. It neglected the issue.

The Center’s absence was disappointing because not only does the group trumpet itself as a leader in LGBTQ advocacy, but the Center’s The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, was footsteps away from the property that once housed the venerable Circus Disco and Arena Cafe, another well-known LGBTQ Latino venue. Both clubs were demolished in early 2016 by Avalon Bay, which purchased the almost 6-acre property for more than $70 from owner Gene La Pietra, to build 786 condos and gentrify the area. 

The Center was made aware of plans to demolish the cultural landmark in 2014 or early 2015 when property owners in the area were notified by the city of Los Angeles about the potential plans.

REFUSING TO COMMENT

When Center spokesman Gil Diaz was asked in 2015 about the possible destruction of a historic and culturally significant site to the LGBTQ Latino community, Diaz said via email “No comment” and refused to answer any other questions on the topic.

Diaz was approached again in late 2015  – when the issue went before the Cultural Heritage Commission – and asked why the Center wasn’t involved in the issue.

“Actually I don’t know,” Diaz said via email. “Maybe because this is between the preservationists and the developers?”

Diaz was then reminded that the preservationists are part of the LGBT community, the Center has been involved in numerous other issues and Circus Disco is right across the street; however, he refused to comment.

Diaz was asked if the Center was worried it might offend someone if it joined the fray (the Center acquired it’s parking lot on McCadden from previous owner La Pietra), but Diaz refused to respond, again.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBT community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBT students.