Silver Lake gay landmark gets bulldozed *

Photo by James Schneeweis

Before demolition

Shoppers and visitors at Silver Lake’s Sunset Junction on Saturday were met with the sights and sounds of a bulldozer that mowed down a row of storefronts and, along with them, a piece of gay neighborhood history. In 1979,  Norman Laurila and George Leigh opened a gay book shop called A Different Light in the vaguely Tud0r-style storefront at 4014 Santa Monica Boulevard. A Different Light eventually added locations in West Hollywood, San Francisco and New York, becoming one of the nation’s largest gay-owned booksellers.  Gregory A. McVey-Russell, who publishes a blog called The Gar Spot, recalls a visit to the Silver Lake book shop:

It sat in a little white building nestled on a small block squeezed by Santa Monica and Sunset. I always had problems finding it exactly, and then there was the parking which was challenging even for a motorcycle.  I didn’t drive cars in those days.  It was small and crammed, the way all independent, hippy-ish bookstores should be.  The staff always smiled.

That’s my recollection of visiting A Different Light Bookstore in its original location in Silver Lake.  Someone was about to do a reading that evening, I believe, but I didn’t hang out for it.  Don’t know why, really.  Freshly minted out of the closet, maybe I was just shy.  But I do remember the friendly, welcoming vibe at the store and I remember visiting once or twice more before hanging out regularly at the closer and bigger store in West Hollywood.

The Silver Lake store closed its doors in 1992.  As major chains and online stores began to carry a larger inventory of gay-themed books and publications, A Different Light in West Hollywood announced it was closing down in 2009. The chain’s last remaining store in San Francisco announced it was closing earlier this year.

The Santa Monica Boulevard storefronts were demolished as the property owner apparently is preparing to develop the site into housing.

* Update: Elizabeth Elizabeth Bougart-Sharkov, who heads the Silver Lake Neighborhood  Council’s Urban Design & Preservation Committee, said work was underway to get the building nominated as a city historic cultural monument.

Related Post:

  • Gay literary landmark leveled at Sunset Junction Saturday. Patch



  1. i was already bummed about this demise of these cute little shops, but now i’m even more bummed. 🙁

  2. More property owners destroying the character of our cool little neighborhoods.

  3. Lamenting the tearing down of a building, because a great bookstore used to be there is fine. Just remember that running off to Amazon to order your books is what is closing down bookstore after bookstore, where you got personal service and knowledgeable staff. If you don’t want more of this to happen. Then buy your books elsewhere. Even if you go on line, look for other vendors, other than Amazon (and they own AbeBooks as well.) Introduce competition to the book market through your purchasing habits. And there are cheaper vendors than Amazon on line, by the way.

  4. When concerns were raised about the eviction of the shop tenants, the property owner — Frost/Chaddock — made some assurances that there was no imminent demolition planned. Eric Garcetti’s people say they were totally blindsided by this. The owners had previously stated they would voluntarily perform an EIR for their proposed project — removal of a potential historic monument makes this review a lot easier. A Different Light not only was a significant cultural resource in its own right, but also served as a catalyst for grass roots LGBT organizations in the Sunset Junction area — VIVA (the Latino arts coalition), ACT-UP LA, Being Alive, and the Street Fair — the bookstore is where some of the original organizing meetings for the Fair were held. Perhaps the City should be less generous in projects that benefit this development, unless the owners address concerns from the community –specifically anything that happens at the Transit Plaza that benefits this development needs to undergo some scrutiny.

  5. How could Garcetti be blindsided? They had to have gotten a demolition permit. Wasn’t Garcetti paying attention? Sounds like he wasn’t, just wasn’t a priority for him.

  6. Don’t they get that these charming little shops in the older buildings are part of what made people want to visit Silver Lake? There are so many things wrong with this, and I have such a hard time realizing that I have no influence over developers’ plans for this city.

  7. i used to work at a guitar shop there, our neighbors were some artists that made ends meet by building props in their space. I painted the building by hand, had lunch in the backyard of the store, let school kids plug in guitars while they waited for the bus,.. I was sad when that place turned into a cell phone store, but this is just brutal. i guess it’s bound to happen; too many people live in LA now.

  8. Yep , Garcetti is too focused on trying to be Mayor. Shame on him for letting this happen. This all rest in his court.

  9. Cute little shops??!! That also was a Red Car terminal for lines that started in 1895! That’s two layers of important Silverlake history.


  10. A few days after the tenants were given notice to vacate the now demolished building, which was built as a red car station in 1926, making it historic not only for the bookstore, but also as a symbol of early 20th century LA, a few concerned citizens alerted Garcetti’s office to this imminent threat, but received no response. It seemed obtaining historic cultural status for the building was the only way to save it at that point, but the developer probably got wind of it and decided to destroy the building before it could be protected. No plans for this supposed development are currently available to the public, which is odd considering the cost involved in remaking that entire corner of Sunset Junction. Are the owners more interested in selling off the land to make whatever they can as quickly as they can or are they really building this proposed mixed use retail monstrosity? The citizens are still waiting for an official response from our elected representative. We deserve an answer immediately.

  11. Sunset Junction Resident

    As a resident of the area I am very upset about this sneaky demolition. And yes, the permits were issued in early August and on public record (I just found out).

    However, I would like to correct the popular misconception that this was a Red Car station. A few years ago I did extensive research into this when the news of this project first came up. I ended up learning a lot about the various street car systems in LA, which was fascinating, but it turned out in the end that this little building had no affiliation. After finally speaking with the librarian at MTA and the head of the Railway historical society (name?), this was confirmed.

    However, it was still a sweet little building and it will be missed.

  12. More housing? Great. Expensive condos no doubt. And whatever will be built there will certainly lack the charm of those little storefronts.

  13. They tore down these delightful storefronts but SOMEHOW that shit shack on the corner of Sunset and Sanborn in front of the old auto repair place is still standing! WTF.

  14. I appreciate the concern for gay history in our neighborhood, but I don’t see how it’s relevant if the bookstore left 20 years ago. I’d rather have more housing that allows new neighbors to enjoy the community we love than have people hide behind a store that died decades ago to prevent the growth of our community.

  15. I had the misfortune of recently dealing with the San Diego building/development department in trying to remodel a 90+ year old house. What needs to be a tear down and rebuilt cannot be because of historical (or I should say hysterical) preservationists who want to tell property owners what to do with their property, but they themselves have no interest in the property – other than to tell others what to do. If historical societies/groups/whatever want to preserve, then they should get their checkbooks out and buy the properties. So many want to live in the past and restrict the future, but they want someone else to pay for it. It would appear that the owner of this Silver Lake property is doing what he/she believes is right, and as the owner, they have the right to do it.

  16. How is housing less important than a closed-down book store?

  17. Kenny, our community doesn’t need any more “growth.” LA is crowded beyond belief as it is, the quality of life has deteriorated, and we don’t need one of the last real neighborhoods bulldozed to make way for a tacky development. Those who love Silver Lake want to preserve the reason why it’s one of the best places to live in LA. if you’d rather live in a high rise made of particle board and stucco, fine, the Westside or the Valley is calling you, leave Silver Lake alone. There is plenty of housing in LA. For rent signs are everywhere, even in the best neighborhoods. Reed, this is good for the developer and the politicians – not the citizens.

  18. i don’t care what the building use to be as far as gay history, or a red car station, it was simply cute store front buildings from a by gone era that allowed unique stores to serve the public. If more upscale condos go in there will be no store fronts for the public and the charm these buildings had brought to the neighborhood will be lost. The “Laguna” condo is a perfect example, there are no store fronts under neath, it does not serve the community, only a handful 0f rich gentry that close off the area for private use on a public street.

  19. Actually Rich, there are many laws in our city and every other that regulate what a property owner may do with their property. This isn’t exactly breaking news, and if someone can’t handle it then they shouldn’t buy property. In this case, the city has a Preservation Ordinance that has been on the books since the 60’s, so there’s no excuse.

    Additionally, what one individual feels is best for their property is most likely motivated by their needs and advantage, not what’s best for the community, of which the property is a part. That is WHY we have these laws and protection, which Frost/Chaddock arrogantly choose to circumnavigate as though they don’t matter.

  20. @Rich – Sorry, one more thing- “preservationists who want to tell property owners what to do with their property, but they themselves have no interest in the property –”

    That doesn’t even make sense. Why would they be telling the property owner what to do if they didn’t have any interest? Their interest is in looking at the built environment of the city as a whole, comprised of many many parts. It’s okay to lose some of the parts, but once you lose too many the picture loses it’s focus. The picture is this case is our shared history and culture. However, maybe those things aren’t of importance to you, so carry on.

  21. How very sad that now the original building for A Different Light is gone. A sad footnote to a sad story.

  22. “Housing.” Rriiiight.

  23. I moved to L.A. in 1974 and immediately began buying books at the Silverlake branch of A Different Light, including the hardback release of Andrew Holleran’s outstanding “Dancer From The Dance”. It was so exciting, every month, to go into that store and find and purchase the latest gay releases! I remember when author Edmund White was in the store one morning to promote his latest book. He was sitting on a stool next to the cash register station and propositioned me with his eyes and smile, but I turned him down. I’ll never foget how my numerous visits to A Different Light in Silverlake enhanced my life greatly because they increased my domestic library so much via hundreds of book purchases!

  24. Fifteen Years in SL

    I guess another awesome neighborhood has been lost. Stroller owners complain the neighborhood isn’t family friendly and work to change it. Self proclaimed “hipsters” push out the original residents, and the local shops turn into designer boutiques and hair salons. The change is inevitable, but honoring what brought many here (the diverse culture, edgy mix of gang bangers, graffiti artists, and leather gays) is lost. Silverlake is now the Santa Monica of the east side. Personally, I don’t enjoy it, since friendliness on the street also went away. My real estate value is up… But, as I look for places to move, was the price of Silverlakes culture worth it?

    We can’t go back, the change has occurred. But we could try being nice to each other, we could embrace the diversity our community still has, and we could lighten up. My elderly neighbor sees me weekly, just to check on her. My gay neighbor should be able to marry the man he loves, and I should be able to walk my dog at night (plastic poop bags in hand) and meet everyone – of every economic level, race, age, sexual orientation, gender, and everything else- and have a block party

    Come on people. Lighten up. Be nice. Drive nice.

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