In 1984, West Hollywood officially became the 84th city in Los Angeles County. Today, the 1.9-square mile city has 39,000 full-time residents and a weekend population of 78,000 shoppers, nightclub goers and live entertainment seekers. According to the West Hollywood Marketing and Visitors Bureau, one third of its residents are gay or lesbian and 12 percent are immigrants from the Soviet Union. On April 17, the community that has built this unique city will converge on West Hollywood Park to celebrate 25 years of cityhood.
Outgoing mayor Abbe Land recently signed a beam that marked the end of phase one of the West Hollywood library project, and was joined by incoming mayor John Heilman, who will be sworn in on Monday.
The party in the park will feature several food vendors, food trucks, a photo booth and two stages of live entertainment. The first stage will be the official event stage featuring the cityhood ceremony and live entertainment. The second stage will feature a Russian style festival. A kids' fair area will feature arts and crafts, a mini train ride, three bounce houses, storytelling, face painting and vendors providing information on schools.
But Saturday's event is not the only celebration of the city's 25th anniversary. City officials have been celebrating since November 29, 2009, the official birthday of West Hollywood, kicking off a capital campaign project consisting of the creation of 800 parking spaces in four structures, 3.5 acres of new and enhanced green space at Plummer Park and West Hollywood Park, a three-level, 46,000 square foot library and enhancements to city hall. The 25th Anniversary Capital Project is projected to cost $125 million.
West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land said she is particularly excited about the library.
"I think it is going to really improve the park and the whole area with additional parking and meeting space," Land said. "I know it will be a place that is a focal point for the community."
Land, who was part of the campaign to make West Hollywood a city in 1984 and was first elected to the city council in 1986, is preparing to pass the mayoral baton to Mayor Pro Tempore John Heilman on April 19. She said that as the city turns 25 and she moves back into her councilmember role, she is most proud of the work she has done over the last year with Steve Zimmer, District 4 Los Angeles Unified School Board representative, on creating a middle school in West Hollywood. Zimmer said he is aiming to phase out the elementary grades at Laurel Elementary School, turning the campus into a middle school. West Hollywood currently has three elementary schools, but no middle school.
"We have a great group of teenagers and younger people living here and many parents told us at a recent summit that they love the elementary schools here, but they really want to send their children to a middle school right in their own community," Land said. "Working with Steve Zimmer we may be able to start on a middle school option as early as September."
Zimmer aims to phase out kindergarten at Laurel Elementary School in September and add seventh grade. He said the city's backing has been hugely important in creating the middle school option.
"I think we have a good shot at starting seventh grade in September, we just have to make sure we can get the facility ready for things like a science lab and a physical education class," Zimmer said.
In addition to the new library, parking spaces and middle school, the Sunset Strip is also getting an upgrade, with a repaving project that marks the first time in 90 years the iconic street has had major improvements. The city council is also moving toward passing a restaurant patio smoking ban, which some say will have a negative impact on the city's nightlife and culture, changing its face just as the city turns 25. West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran is against the ban, which he says would hurt the city's nightlife, an economic engine for West Hollywood. Sharon Sandow, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has also expressed concern that a restaurant patio smoking ban in the city would be bad for business.
But Land said the ban is about good health.
"We passed a smoking ban inside restaurants many years ago and everyone thought the economy would fall apart," Land said. "It didn't. We need to implement the ban in a thoughtful way…I am very confident that we will come up with an ordinance that meets the needs of people who live, work and play in the city."
Larry Gross, executive director for the Coalition for Economic Survival, the organization that led the charge for West Hollywood's incorporation, said the city was built on rent control and continues to be a leader on that issue 25 years later.
"It was the only city in the world established by tenants fighting for rent control," Gross said. "Today there are challenges because it is a small area, but to tell you the truth, it is almost nothing compared to what we have seen in Los Angeles, in terms of the loss of rent control units to demolition and development. We are still holding on to a significant amount of our rent control units in West Hollywood. But if not for incorporation, the people living in rent control units in West Hollywood today would be long gone."
The cityhood celebration will be held Saturday, April 17, from 11:00am – 6:00pm at West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd. Admission is free. For more information about the City of West Hollywood's 25th anniversary capital project, visit www.weho.org.