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Capitol Records Tower (2011)

Urban legends attribute the design of this iconic 1956 building near the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine to various Capitol Records artists, who suggested that the new building should resemble a stack of records on a record changer. “Functional” buildings that reflected their owners’ businesses were indeed an architectural fad in the mid-1950s. But when Capitol Records president Glenn Wallichs hired Welton Becket’s architectural firm to design a new building, he insisted it must not look like records, a jukebox, or anything else associated with recording.

Becket assigned the project to Lou Naidorf, a young associate. To ensure a design free of any fanciful “functional” elements, Becket did not identify the client or disclose that the capacious ground level would contain recording studios. Naidorf had written a thesis in graduate school proposing a then-unheard-of cylindrical building to maximize interior space, an approach Becket apparently thought was appropriate for the Capitol building. The project was constrained not only by the need for a large interior space on a small lot, but by the Los Angeles ordinance then in effect limiting building heights to 46 meters. (The ordinance was repealed in 1964.)

To make the building look less like a soup can, Naidorf added angled sunshades for each floor that also shield the windows. When Wallichs saw the model he pronounced the round building “ridiculous” and demanded a normal rectangular redesign. At Becket’s suggestion, Wallichs showed models of both designs to his banker. The banker thought a distinctive round building would create good publicity that promoted leasing. Wallichs relented, but made a new request: He was planning to put a radio station in the building and needed a 27-meter antenna. Neidorf devised an attractive angled aluminum cover for the ugly “oil derrick.” The radio station never came to fruition, but a light on top of the pylon blinks HOLLYWOOD in Morse code.

EMI, the British conglomerate that owns the Capitol label, sold the building to a New York real estate developer in 2006. But the recording studios, renowned for their underground echo chambers, remain in use. Architecture firms in the 1950s did not publicize the “anonymous” contributions of associates. Lou Naidorf was not acknowledged as the building’s designer until 2008, when the new owner placed a plaque honoring Naidorf outside the entrance.


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