so, Tower Sunset
was finally demolished
yesterday at dawn
For the uninitiated, “Tower Sunset” was the name given to Tower Records one time flagship store located right in the heart of Sunset Strip at 8801 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood, CA. My buddy and former colleague Gary Helsinger offers a fine and exhaustive history of the property. Amazing research, brother! Wow!
Tower Sunset, aka “store 131”, was opened in 1970, built by Ross Sockolov, Stan Goman and Billy Rhinehard. It was the fourth store in Russ Solomon’s game changing chain of record stores, and the first outside of Northern California. Eventually, there would be close to 100 stores in the U.S. and dozens more all across the globe. Sunset was the one that proved to Russ that he could make this concept explode. And it did! At Tower’s peak, Russ and his loyal minions rang up over a BILLION dollars of sales in a year.
Side note – Ross Sockolov’s son Kenny and yours truly built the first three Tower stores in Israel: Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. But that’s a whole other story!
Tower Sunset became the most famous record store in the world, the place that Elton John wanted to work at, where Michael Jackson shopped (and spied on customers from the security booth through the two way mirrors), where people went to see and be seen, where every artist wanted to do an in-store appearance, where on Grammy days in L.A., you could walk in the store at any given hour and run into Prince, Ringo, Bruce, Whitney… people who only needed one name. David Lee Roth lived just up the block.
And the employees… Gary himself played with Green Jello (and all the other guys in the band worked at Sunset too!). Across the street, there was a separate Tower video store where guys like Axl and Slash worked. I could name you at least a dozen other notable musicians who worked at the record store, like Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Tom Stevens (Long Ryders), Jim Laspesa (Jim has played with Green Jello, Dave Davies, the Muffs, the Bangles, Lindsey Buckingham and is currently the percussionist in Brian Wilson’s band) and many others.
I worked at Tower Sunset from 1980 to 1991. I started as a clerk making $3.25 an hour sweeping floors on the night crew and left as the General Manager.
Fun fact: In 1990, Tower Sunset grossed over a million bucks EVERY month, including that skimpy little February. It was the only time in its 36 year history that this financial feat was accomplished. The manager was a kid named… well… it was me. I could write a book about the place. In fact, I AM writing a book about the place.
There’s way too much to cover here, and I’m sure many better articles have been, and will be, written about the store, but to complement Gary’s fine history of the property, I just want to acknowledge the eight folks who RAN the place over its 36 year history. These rock stars helped to steward this legendary piece of music history and they all deserve a TON of credit.
The first manager was a gentleman named Charlie Shaw. Charlie, much beloved by his colleagues, left the business to pursue another path. He was succeeded by the legendary Bob Delanoy, who was running the joint when I arrived on April Fool’s Day in 1980. Quick note about my hiring, when I got to Bob’s office for my job interview, there was a plaque on his door that said Bob Delanoy. Under it, someone had scrawled, “Spanish for ‘of the annoyance’”. That cracked me up! I walked in the office and Bob was leaned way back in his chair, sneakers on the desk, looking kind of like Gregg Allman with his long blond hair and mirrored sunglasses. I looked around the cluttered room and on the wall was a picture of Bob with Bob Marley! Damn! This place was cool.
Around maybe ‘84 or ‘85, Bobby D. got kicked upstairs and Dennis Lefler took over the chair for a couple of years before moving to Austin to put a Tower flag up in Texas. Debbie Pollay, who was on the night crew when I had showed up back in 1980, took over. The manager’s gig could be quite pressure packed and after a couple of years, folks tended to move on to other opportunities within the company, opening new stores as the chain rapidly expanded across the U.S. and internationally. When Debbie was picked to open the new store in Pasadena, I got the Sunset manager’s gig. I ran the store from 1989-1991 at which point I left to open the new Tower “WOW” store on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills. I was replaced by Alison Shifke. When Alison’s term ended, Jay Smith took it for a spin. The final manager, the one who locked that door for the last time, was Sharon Vitro.
That’s a short list!
I’m not sad that the building is gone. It was a cheap cinder block rectangle with a corrugated sheet metal roof that leaked right over the front cash registers. The building was drafty and run down and there were rodents in the rafters. One particularly rainy winter the back room started to flood under the back door and we had to scramble to get sand bags to prevent a total disaster. In the end, it was just a building. No one can take away the great memories and the great friendships – some brief, some that have lasted a lifetime. The store’s legendary status can never be diminished.
Tower Sunset is forever.
Peace, love and music!
For more photos, please click here or here.
Sneaky little devils!
The new owners, using a loophole in the code, did not reveal to the city that they were going to gut the building.
From the WeHoTimes website: 2/17/22
The construction at the former Sunset Tower Records building is stripping the landmark to its bare bones. At a community meeting on January 27th, Aaron Green of Afriat Consulting Group, gave a presentation where he stated that the building would not have major alterations to the structure. He stated that the roof would be raised and the window facing Sunset Boulevard would be moved from the left side of the building, closer to the main entrance.
Some neighbors were surprised on Wednesday when they realized renovations also include the gutting of the exterior, something that was not discussed at the meeting. The walls are being ripped out, a dreaded sight for community members who fought to save the building and give it historical significance.
“It looks like they are doing more than just raising the roof and moving a window,” said one concerned neighbor who submitted photos to WEHO TIMES. “They are keeping the frame. If they tear it all down, then they would have to go through the Planning Commission and then go through the a City Council meeting. If they keep the frame, then they the slide over the counter. Shady.”