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Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard will open its doors again – for one night only. The former record store will play host to the premiere of “All Things Must Pass,” a documentary by Colin Hanks about Tower Records’ empire that spanned 200 stores in 30 countries from 1960 to 2006. For added authenticity, the film’s producer has partnered with the building’s current owners, Gibson Brands, to restore the exterior sign for its private screening tomorrow.
The bright yellow and red sign at the curve of 8801 Sunset Blvd. has stirred feelings of nostalgia in community members – a few hopeful passersby have even stopped to ask when it will reopen. While it won’t be open for shoppers to browse retail, its interior will feature artwork from “Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip” by artist Robert Landau, vinyl listening tables and a vinyl recording booth sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon. The premiere will host the band Eagles of Death Metal live, a throwback to the days when rock and roll bands performed in the parking lot.
“We’ve had people tell us about how Tower Records was a destination that galvanized the community and the neighborhood. My hope is that they will see the film as a battle cry for the neighborhood and that this building will continue to be a cool space for everyone,” said Sean Stuart, producer of “All Things Must Pass.”
Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and closed its doors in West Hollywood. The iconic building was in flux between occupants for many years, and in 2013 a group unsuccessfully tried to have the building designated as a historical landmark.
“The community aspect and history of Tower Records is important to us. To see these people were in a battle to get something marked as a historical monument – we didn’t realize how many people this company affected, and that became more evident as we made the movie,” Stuart said.
Last year the property was bought by Gibson Brands, a company known primarily for guitars, with plans to develop the space into a showroom with live performances. Gibson has not yet done any work to the space, so Hanks and Stuart were able to rent it for the premiere.
“[Gibson] has the same passion for rock and roll on Sunset as we do, and we were able to find a common ground to throw the event here to bring it back to life for one more night,” Stuart said.
Jerome Cleary, who helped lead the historic preservation efforts, said while it’s fitting for Gibson to take over the space, Tower Records was a one-of-a-kind experience that doesn’t exist anymore.
“We were at a rare time in music fan history where you went to the store to find the latest releases, and you would run into someone from Guns N’ Roses or Elton John. It was one of the most iconic stores and performance spaces,” Cleary said.
Domenic Priore, author of “Riot on the Sunset Strip: Rock and Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood,” said Tower Records was like a beacon in the 1970s, when all of the signs on Sunset Strip were for music.
“The thing about time is that as it passes, you appreciate it more – but there isn’t a lot you can do to save the integrity of the old Strip. You can’t really recreate the integrity of the 60s and 70s, but it’s a good idea to try to save one or two of the icons here and there,” Priore said.
Stuart spearheaded the artistic direction of the sign by finding artists who were familiar with the process of recreating historic signs to look authentic. He contracted Danielle Stampe, former member of the band Gwar, to design the large sign, which is a duplicate of the original, aside from Gibson Brand’s logo at its center. How long the Tower Records signage will remain on the building is currently undetermined.
Russ Solomon, former owner of Tower Records, said he was impressed with the sign’s restoration, and with the film overall. He also is pleased that Gibson now owns the store and that it will be devoted to music, just as he had intended when he built it.
“The building looks killer, and it is wonderful that this one has been restored because it’s so iconic,” Solomon said.
Recalling the prime years of Tower Record’s glory in Los Angeles, Solomon said his favorite memory was when the West Hollywood store opened in 1970. A record salesman who specialized in astrological signs told him they needed to open on a day in early November by noon, but the store was not yet ready. Though Solomon didn’t much believe in astrology, he challenged the store’s manager to sell a $15 Woodstock album for $1 on the sidewalk outside to beat the deadline. Sure enough, after haggling for five minutes, the manager sold the record just in time – according to the astrological signs – to a man who didn’t have a phonograph.
“We took that as a good sign for the store’s future success, and we had great fun in the years following,” Solomon said. “All of us were part of this wonderful wave that started up in the mid-60s and ended recently, and the idea that we were lucky enough to find a location in the middle of this happening area in West Hollywood, along with our location in San Francisco, was fantastic.”
“All Things Must Pass” examines how Tower Records allowed artists to engage with the “scene” and their fans, and how it became known for its local and niche album selections. The film will speak to music fans and will show a larger story and history of the music industry behind the scenes.
“It shows the human element of the people who created Tower in the 1960s – they put their heart and soul into the company. A lot of people didn’t have a place to fall back on when this store disappeared,” Stuart said.
Though the idea of designating the company’s former location a historical landmark was dismissed, Tower Records devotees from across the country are behind a movement to get Solomon inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of his influence on rock and roll music. His fans argue that he has affected more people through music than most people who have worked in the industry, such as artists and producers, as Tower Record’s catalog constantly searched for the next great thing. To date, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has not accepted a retailer.
“He did such an incredible thing for the industry with Tower and touched so many people,” Stuart said.
Tomorrow’s private screening of “All Things Must Pass” is by invitation only, but the film will open on Friday in select theaters.
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