The Derby Debate

A group of Los Angeles residents are campaigning to save the last venue of the Brown Derby chain from being leveled by developers who want to build a five-story residential and retail complex.

Members of the Save Our Derby group and the Los Angeles Conservancy are working to save the building and preserve its ties to Hollywood’s “golden age.”

“Many people call The Derby home,” said Rebecca Goodman of Save Our Derby. “It’s a location that pays homage to the old Hollywood history that’s the cultural legacy of Los Angeles and needs to be saved before we all forget.”

That legacy includes Joan Crawford filming a scene at the venue for “Mildred Pierce” in 1945 and the cult film “Swingers” showcasing the club in 1993. The Brown Derby was owned by movie producer Cecil B. DeMille in its heyday.

Tony and Tammi Gower bought it in 1993 and reopened the building as The Derby nightclub in homage to its Tinseltown roots. Entertainment each week includes swing, techno, rock, jazz and modern burlesque themes.

The grassroots campaign began following the news that developer Adler Realty Investments, which bought the property last year, is considering building 81 condos and possibly a Whole Foods market at the location.

Although the redevelopment plan hasn’t been presented to the Los Angeles City Council yet, Adler representatives are said to be talking to neighborhood groups and city agencies to build support for the project.

Adler VP Richard Gable said the concern for preserving The Derby is a recent development that the company didn’t expect.

“I’m not sure how we would incorporate The Derby. That would be a challenge we would have to look at. That wasn’t our original plan,” he said.

Meanwhile, Derby supporters have launched, organized public meetings and started a letter-writing campaign to L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the area.

LaBonge, who commemorated The Derby’s 10th anniversary in 2003 by proclaiming “Derby Day in L.A.,” is said to be talking with Adler reps about reworking the plan.

A call to Gower was not returned at press time.