The Capitol Records Tower: A Legend Turns Sixty

The Capitol Records Tower: A Legend Turns Sixty

May 2, 2016, 3:26:52 PM Entertainment

​The Capitol Records Tower, a concrete symbol of mid-century modernism residing at the corner of Holywood and Vine, is one of Los Angeles' most beloved landmarks.  This iconic Tower has found its way onto innumerable Los Angeles souvenirs for its resemblance to a stack of piled vinyl records with its record spindle hitting the sky.  The Capitol Tower just turned sixty years old last April, if you happen to cruise by the Tower, a Mecca for the music industry, give it a nod of appreciation.


​Despite the building's likeness to the record players of yore, the Capitol Records executives did not ask for a circular design. Flush with money after the 1955 British conglomerate EMI acquired the Capitol Records label, the executives at Capitol approached the renowned Los Angeles architectural firm of Welton Becket and Associates with their vision of a building that would become synonymous with the Capitol label - a building that would dramatically, yet tastefully, dominate the Hollywood landscape.


The Welton Becket executives gave the Capitol Records project to their twenty-four year old architectural genius, Louis Naidorf.  Naidorf was unaware, as he drew up the plans for the Capitol Tower, that the client he was designing for was Capitol Records.  Naidorf diligently kept to the specifications of his unknown client: functionality (and cost savings) to serve a large assemblage of individual offices, each office to have their own window.  The circular design was able to accommodate that request as well as the cost savings specifications: the reduced area of the exterior walls would save on construction costs and on air-conditioning.  When given the circular design - the first circular design for an office building anywhere in the country - the Capitol Records executives were thrilled by the concept.  They signed off on the Welton Becket circular design, and a legend was born.


The Tower's most thrilling innovation lay thirty feet underground and slightly to the left, underneath the Capitol parking lot.  Three recording studios, designed by legendary guitar pioneer Les Paul, would be the first studios with the capability to record in high fidelity.  These subterranean studios had the added attraction of being able to record reverberations up to five seconds.  The Beach Boys utilized these underground echo chambers for their classic hit "Good Vibrations."


Think of the excitement, the wonder when the Capitol Records Tower opened its doors in April, 1956.  Besides being the first office building with a circular design (with each office having its own window), it was also the tallest building in Hollywood, reaching the maximum height level of thirteen stories. It was the first office building to offer automatic elevators, eliminating the need for an elevator operator.  And, for an added attraction on opening night, the beacon atop the ninety-four aluminum spire had its light switch activated by Leila Morse, the granddaughter of the legendary telegraph inventor and author of the Morse code, Samuel Morse. Leila lit the switch on the Tower's opening night and the beacon began to spell out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D in Morse code. Sixty years on, the beacon still blinks and beacons all dreamers to Hollywood.


After their success with the Capitol Records Tower, the architects at Welton Becket and Associates furthered their indelible architectural imprint on the Los Angeles landscape.  In the coming decades, the firm would design the Century City master plan, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the once grand department store Orbach's (since transformed into the Petersen Automotive Museum, the downtown Los Angeles Music Center (including the glorious Dorothy Chandler Music Pavilion), the Cinerama Dome Theater in Hollywood and the Beverly Hilton.


​Within a very short space of time of its opening, the Capitol Tower earned the nickname of "the house that Nat built" given the prodigious amount of records and merchandise that Nat King Cole produced for the Capitol label.


Frank Sinatra was another artist associated with the Capitol Tower.  Sinatra recorded the first album at the newly opened Capitol Tower, "Tone Poems in Color." Sinatra's microphone, the George Neumann U47, is housed at the Capitol Tower and is still used for recording sessions.​


Miles Davis recorded his brilliant jazz compositions at the Capitol Tower as fellas the rock and roll classics of The Beach Boys and The Beatles.  The lists who have recorded at the Capitol Tower is infinite and inspiring - the Capitol Tower remains committed in utilizing the latest in technological advancement for the recording industry.  At the moment, Katy Perry is one of the artists recording at the Capitol Tower.


In 2012, Studio A received a new AMS Neve mixing console designed to the specifications of record producer and recording engineer extraordinaire, multiple Grammy award winner Al Schmitt and Paul McCartney (who needs no introduction).


That same year, McCartney received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol Tower.  His star joins his fellow bandmates George Harrison, Ringo Star and John Lennon that lie together in front of the Capitol Tower.


The music industry and music lovers worldwide would like to wish the Capitol Tower at least another sixty years of recording success and innovation, but there is a problem.  Despite its strong, immutable concrete appearance, the Capitol Tower is one of the fourteen concrete structures clustered around the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.  All of these concrete buildings were erected before 1976, when the Los Angeles building codes were implemented that required more rebar to stabilize the concrete structures should an earthquake occur.  Given that Hollywood is bisected by a fault capable of producing a 7.0 earthquake, the Capitol Tower remains vulnerable going into the next millennium.


But that, as they say, is another story.




Published by Nancy Snyder

Comments (1)

May 14, 2016, 4:11:08 AM

Great to know this history of a Hollywood landmark. Thanks!

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