Wednesday – August 2, 2017 by Bob Bishop
In a place as frenetic as West Hollywood can be, it’s easy to drive through or walk by the city’s busiest intersection without realizing the substantial rock ‘n’ roll history that pervades the neighborhood where Santa Monica and La Cienega boulevards cross paths.
Most everyone knows that Room 32 at the Alta Cienega Motel on the northwest corner was the main place Jim Morrison lived from 1968 until he died in 1971 in Paris. But how many know that The Doors’ offices, where manager Bill Siddons handled day-to-day-operations, were less than a block away at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd.? Or that the band recorded three of its six albums featuring Morrison at a sound studio on site and at another just couple of blocks away?
If Los Angeles was the center of The Doors’ universe, then West Hollywood was home to many of the worlds where band members worked, lived and often played.
The group’s offices on Santa Monica Boulevard housed a lower level rehearsal studio they called The Doors Workshop. That’s where they recorded the entire “L.A. Woman” album released in 1971, according to “The Doors Guide to LA,” a website created by keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Kreiger.
The lower level bathroom, oddly enough, served as the vocal booth for Morrison to lay down his vocals for the album. A plaque in front of the building still commemorates the former site of The Doors Workshop and the place where “L.A. Woman” was recorded.
A young Danny Sugarman began working at the band’s offices answering fan mail in the late 1960s, eventually taking over as manager in 1972 following Morrison’s death. Since its days as The Doors Workshop, the building has changed ownership quite a few times. An Italian restaurant, Benvenuto Café, operated there in the early 2000s, followed by Mexico restaurant. The most recent tenant was L’ Scorpion, a tequila lounge and bar that closed in 2015.
The Doors offices and Workshop were ideally situated for Morrison – they were just a hop, skip and jump away from The Palms, the (now closed) lesbian bar at 8572 Santa Monica. During breaks in rehearsal and recording sessions, Morrison would walk next door to eat a little and drink a lot of beer and whiskey. Others might do the same, too, if they had to make a living by singing in a toilet.
Two other albums – “Soft Parade” and “Morrison Motel,” released in 1969 and 1970, respectively – were recorded at Elektra Sound Recorders, a state of the art studio the record company built a short walk away at 962 N. La Cienega.
Elektra recording artists Judy Collins, Roxy Music, Carly Simon, the Stooges and Harry Chapin, among many others, also cut albums in the same studio in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That building too has undergone several changes in ownership, previously also housing Asylum Records and Intersound Inc. and currently is home to Electric Entertainment.
As nearly all Doors fans know, Morrison’s lived with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. In the late 1960s, he purchased a boutique for her that she named “Themis.” The store sold women’s fashions from around the world and became a popular hangout for their friends. It was located at 947 La Cienega Blvd. in the current Mahin Rugs building.
Morrison’s experimental film, “HWY: An American Pastoral,” was produced in another part of the same building by Frank Lisciandro, Paul Ferrara and Babe Hill. Shot in Direct Cinema style during the spring and summer of 1969 in the Mojave Desert and in Los Angeles, the complete 35 mm, movie-quality film has yet to be released commercially, apart from select excerpts used in the 2009 documentary “When You’re Strange.” The full video is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ojURx4Zdqc.
When it came time to play, the neighborhood could be quite accommodating. Morrison, as well as those in many other bands, reportedly were quite familiar with The Phone Booth at 8505 Santa Monica Blvd., and The Extension directly across the street at 8500 Santa Monica Blvd. Those businesses were historic in their own particular right – the first was a strip club next door to the Alta Cienega Motel that most readers might remember as Leo’s Flowers, while the other was a topless bar that’s a familiar site today as Al & Ed’s Autosound.