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Iconic Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles Marks 65-Year Milestone

Landmark Structure Said To Be World's First Round Office Building

The Capitol Records Building's facade has wraparound sunshades made of porcelain enamel, according to the Society of Architectural Historians.

The cylindrical Capitol Records Tower has reigned over Hollywood in Los Angeles since 1956, its spire blinking "H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D" in Morse code near and far, visible both to tourists lingering on the Walk of Fame and drivers on U.S. Route 101.

The 13-story tower was designed by the renowned firm Welton Becket and Associates to be the headquarters of the West Coast's first major record label, Capitol Records. It is thought to be the world's first round office building, a striking Space Age silhouette that made it an "instantly recognizable icon of modern architecture," according to the nonprofit organization LA Conservancy.

Rock 'n' roll band the Beach Boys posed for a 1962 portrait with the Capitol Records building in the background. From left: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love.

Even 65 years after its opening, many still assume that the building at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was made to resemble a record player or stack of vinyl, given its shape, needle-like crown and stature as the studio that birthed classic albums by the Beach Boys, Nat King Cole and Michael Jackson.

Architect Louis Naidorf definitively put that theory to bed in a January 2020 interview with the trade publication Billboard. The tower's rounded body was merely a way to cut costs on construction materials and heating and cooling.

The Capitol Records building at Hollywood and Vine on Jan. 1, 1970.

"I designed the bloody thing," Naidorf said. "Unequivocally, it had nothing to do with a stack of records. If it were IHOP, everyone would think that it looks like a stack of pancakes or plates."

The building, which is a Historic Cultural Landmark at 1750 Vine St., is still occupied by Capitol, and its underground studio space is considered to be among the best in the industry. The 90-foot spire atop the tower was meant to hide an antenna for a potential radio station on the top floors, a plan that never came to fruition, Naidorf said. Instead, the red light at the top of the spire is used to blink Morse code, and each December the spire holds lights resembling a Christmas tree.

Now, a plan to make the Capitol Records building the linchpin of an elaborate, 1.27 million-square-foot development is showing signs of life after a decade of false starts and long periods of dormancy.

Depending on one's point of view, the proposal will either raise the profile of the famous structure or obscure it completely.

In April 2011, Capitol Records and artist Richard Wyatt Jr. restored his "Hollywood Jazz" mural on the south wall of the Capitol Records building. The mural has been an aesthetic icon in Hollywood since 1990.Restored in hand-glazed ceramic tile, the mural spans 26 by 88 feet.

New York City's Argent Ventures bought the building in October 2006 in a sale-leaseback deal with the then-owner of Capitol Records, British company EMI. The 2008 housing crisis stalled plans to augment the site around the building until 2011, when Argent and New York's Millennium Partners first pitched a proposal to build a $1 billion, 1 million-square-foot mixed-use development there with housing, a hotel, offices, restaurants and stores.

In 2013, the Los Angeles City Council approved the project, in spite of vigorous opposition from residents and conservationists who felt that the plan's two new skyscrapers would eclipse the Capitol Records building and bring traffic headaches to an already congested area.

The project ran afoul of the California Geological Survey, however, which contended that the development would sit on an active fault line. Ultimately, the project was nixed in 2015 by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, who ruled that the proposal's environmental impact report failed to fully assess the project’s impact on surrounding neighborhoods, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A second version of the plan surfaced in 2018, with the third and most recent iteration popping up in April 2020. The latest proposal calls for four buildings: a 35-story residential tower and an 11-story building on the parcel on the west side of Vine Street, and a 46-story tower and an 11-story building on the site to the east.

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