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Capitol Records building
Los Angeles icon. Landmark of mid-century modernism. Mecca of the recording industry. The Capitol Records Building has played all these roles since its completion in 1956, while hosting the West Coast operations for the legendary record label started by singer Johnny Mercer in 1942.
As the world’s first round office building, the prevailing popular belief is that it was designed to resemble a stack of vinyl records topped by a record player’s spindle. However that was never the intention; 24-year-old architect Louis Naidorf of Welton Becket Associates (also known for the Beverly Hilton and the Century City master plan, among numerous other projects) designed it without knowing the identity of his client. His aim was functional—he knew Client X wanted a large assembly of individual offices, and his circular design allowed each office to have a window. The client signed off on his design, and as a result a Hollywood star was born.
Located below the curved awnings on the lower floors are the Capitol Studio’s recording rooms A, B, and C, which were the first to record in high fidelity. The first album recorded at the studio was Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color, and over the years to follow the studios have been the site of classic recordings from Miles Davis, The Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, and Nat “King” Cole, among countless others.
Legendary guitarist and sound innovator Les Paul assisted in the design of the basement’s echo chambers—eight trapezoid-shaped concrete rooms located 30 feet underground. The perfect acoustics allow sounds to echo for up to five seconds, achieving reverberation effects that are unparalleled in the recording industry, perhaps most famously on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.”
While the Capitol Records Building has produced hit songs in Hollywood, the film industry has paid it back with destruction and decimation—over the years, it’s survived an earthquake (Earthquake) and tornadoes (The Day After Tomorrow). Through it all, the light atop the rooftop spire has blinked “Hollywood” in Morse code; a beacon calling out to Tinseltown historians, mid-century architecture buffs, tourists, and music fans worldwide. Most recently, the sidewalk in front of the building hosted the Walk of Fame Star Ceremony for Paul McCartney, whose star joined those of his fellow Beatles (Capitol recording artists) in front of the Capitol Records Building.
Millennium Partners and Argent Ventures bought the building in 2006, with Capitol Records and parent company EMI continuing their seventh decade of operations in this iconic home under a long-term lease. As the Millennium Hollywood mixed-use development takes shape, the design will always reflect the deepest respect for this cultural landmark. The Capitol Records Building will be preserved and serve as the centerpiece of the project, which will improve the surrounding pedestrian experience, create new open space that is active and inviting, and restore the glamour of Hollywood and Vine.
For more information watch this Millennium Hollywood video of project architect Bill Roschen of Roschen Van Cleve talking with Lou Naidorf about creating the Capitol Records building, and his thoughts about Hollywood today. In the video Naidorf states that it was never his intention to build the building to look like a stack of records: