Oil Can Harry’s, the legendary Studio City bar and nightclub that closed in 2021, was recognized last month for its historical and social significance to the San Fernando Valley and the LGBTQ+ community.

The Los Angeles City Council has declared the building a Historic-Cultural Landmark by 14-0 votes. Councilor Joe Buscaino was absent.

Of the more than 1,200 historic-cultural landmarks in the City of Angels, Oil Can Harry’s is only the third LGBTQ+ structure to receive the designation. The Black Cat at Silver Lake was the first in 2008.

Opened in 1968 and the longest-running LGBTQ+ bar in Los Angeles, Oil Can Harry’s closed after its owner sold it to a buyer who didn’t want to continue operating it as a gay bar.

“When Oil Can Harry’s opened in Studio City in 1968, it was illegal in Los Angeles for two men or two women to dance together,” said Paul Krekorian, the second district councilor who took the initiative to secure landmark status for the site located in his district, said in a statement.

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“At a time when LGBTQ people were routinely harassed and even arrested by the police, Oil Can Harry’s was a haven for LGBTQ people,” Krekorian said. “Oil Can Harry’s Designation as a Historic-Cultural Landmark Honors the Heritage of LGBTQ Solidarity and Social Justice Activism in Los Angeles.”

A landmark designation doesn’t fully protect a building from demolition. Still, the Cultural Heritage Commission can prevent a demolition permit from being issued, delaying destruction for up to 180 days, plus a possible 180-day extension if approved by the city council. That time would make it possible to evaluate preservation alternatives.

The committee must also approve proposed exterior and interior changes to ensure they conform to the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation, the nationally accepted criteria for evaluating alterations to historic properties.

The bar had a famous peephole in the entry door and an internal siren system that workers used to warn customers of the police presence, allowing them to stop dancing or same-sex activity.

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In the 1970s, Oil Can Harry’s was an informal headquarters for the emerging Gay Pride movement in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles.

During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, the club was a center for community support and fundraising. Bert Charot, who started the bar, and friend Bob Tomasino, who later ran Oil Can Harry’s, raised money for the fight against AIDS.

The club also became a space for the country-western subculture of the LGBTQ+ community, offering country dance classes two days a week and Western-themed special events.

In 2019, Oil Can Harry’s took the world’s press for its glamorous Grammy awards after-party and celebrity-attended country line dance sessions.

Q Voice News is a digital news magazine that brings LGBTQ news out of the closet. It serves the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles and beyond.


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