Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
When your parties require special legislation, you know you're doing something right.
From Jim Morrison's Oedipal outburst at the Whisky A Go Go to the Suge Knight Balcony Dangle, the Los Angeles music scene is famed for its ability to shock and outrage the world. Today we pay tribute to the most recent instance in a long line of industry controversy: Santa Monica's semi-notorious House of Rock, a 1926 Tudor revival home on La Mesa Drive whose boisterous ways have been banned by the City Council.
How a posh street descended into debauchery is a sorry tale of boutique designers and wealthy real estate investors.
The investors in question are Elaine Culotti and Greg Briles, who bought the house for $7.7 million in October 2010 and undertook a musically themed redesign, installing, among other things, a professional recording studio. This September, via House of Rock LLC, they held a series of events at the house aimed at raising money for various musical charities.
The first, on September 15, was a $500-a-ticket cocktail party to raise money for Music Unites, which funds music programs in public schools. Another was the annual music industry cancer research fundraiser Songs of Hope VIII, which typically raises several hundred thousand dollars.In other words, somewhere between Neil Diamond and Jack Johnson on the rock 'n' roll offense-o-meter.
Neighbors felt differently. The L.A. Times reported:
Since hundreds of guests started streaming in and out of the home in September, residents on affluent La Mesa Drive have complained about everything from noise and lights, to traffic congestion and safety — and even naked partygoers sleeping off a long night in their cars.
According to a report commissioned by the City of Santa Monica and reported in the Times, Culotti admitted that the parties, as well as various services designers provided pro bono, constituted a "crafty way" to sell the house. Some items displayed in the house could be purchased online. Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown called the commercial operation in a residential zone "uniquely egregious."
Susan Cohen, an interior designer who had attended several fundraisers at the House of Rock, told the Santa Monica Patch that the accusations "saddened" her. "Charity is what it's all about," she said.
Nevertheless, on November 14, the city passed a special ordinance banning "big parties for commercial purposes," a law designed to put a halt to the House of Rock activity by mid-December. (The final concert had been scheduled for December 6.) Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom had said the law needed to be narrowly tailored to avoid "targeting political fundraisers, bar mitzvahs or other smaller-scale parties."
On Tuesday, two weeks after the passage of a special ordinance aimed to shut down the House of Rock's late-night cocktail parties, the house -- site of Christina Aguilera's 2012 album debut -- hit the market. The 11,000-square-foot mansion even has a new name: La Mesa Landmark Estate. Between that, the $22 million price tag, and the letter of the law, it seems fairly certain that rock 'n' roll is dead, at least on the banks of the Riviera Country Club.
So as the Christmas lights glow and the Menorahs flicker, the stagelights will presumably go dim on La Mesa Drive.
The House of Rock is dead. Long live the House of Rock.
Top image: Marcel Eskenazy.