Studio City’s Oil Can Harry’s gay bar recommended as LA Historic-Cultural Monument

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday recommended that the City Council designate Oil Can Harry’s, which closed in January, as a Historic-Cultural Monument for being one of the oldest gay bars in the San Fernando Valley.

Oil Can Harry’s was opened in Studio City in 1968 by Bert Charot. It closed in January 2021 after the property’s owner sold the property to a buyer planning to turn it into a jazz venue, according to Oil Can Harry’s website.

“The establishment of Oil Can Harry’s occurred against a backdrop of increased group resistance to homophobia within the gay civil rights movement in Los Angeles,” said City Planning Assistant Mickie Torres-Gil.

“Despite initially being met with protests by its Studio City neighbors, Oil Can Harry’s quickly became a safe haven for the gay community. … It famously utilized a spy hole in the entry door and an internal siren system to alert patrons to police presence, allowing them to halt same-sex dancing or activity.”

Torres-Gil added that during the AIDS epidemic, the club became a “hub for community support and fundraising,” and Charot and his friend Bob Tomasino, who later ran Oil Can Harry’s, raised money for AIDS relief.

The club also became a space for the LGBTQ+ community’s country western subculture, hosting country dance lessons two days a week and special western-themed events, Torres-Gil said.

The Los Angeles Conservancy called in to the meeting to support the nomination and thank Councilman Paul Krekorian for bringing it forward.

“It’s a very important place in terms of the LGBTQ+ significance in Los Angeles, especially within the San Fernando Valley, which there are not many places that help tell this story,” the conservancy’s senior director of advocacy, Adrian Scott Fine, said.

The nomination will next go to the City Council for final approval.

An HCM designation protects the property from alterations and demolition, and the commission would have to approve proposed exterior and interior alterations.

According to the City Planning Department, the commission also is able to object to the issuance of a demolition permit, delaying the demolition for up to 180 days, plus another possible 180-day extension, if approved by the City Council, to allow time to evaluate preservation alternatives.

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