The Mitchell Camera Company, founded in 1919 as the National Motion Picture Repair Company, originally constructed the three-story steel-frame building in 1929 to house manufacturing operations for its motion picture cameras.
It was one of many companies to establish production facilities in close proximity to Hollywood film studios at this time.
Mitchell Camera Company remained in West Hollywood until 1946, when it relocated its operations to a factory in Glendale. Following the move, the West Hollywood factory building was converted to a military salvage depot and, later, a furniture factory.
In 1967, architect, attorney, and artist Ron Buck purchased the building and transformed it into an exclusive, invitation-only nightclub, naming it The Factory. It quickly earned a loyal following of A-list guests, who were attracted to the live entertainment, gourmet food, and exuberant décor. Buck also converted the lower floor into an art gallery, which has since seen a range of uses, including a cabaret theater and a hardware store.
Despite its initial popularity, interest in The Factory had faded by the early 1970s, causing the club to close its doors in 1972. Over the next several years, the building was home to a series of new tenants before reopening as Studio One in 1974, a transformative discotheque within West Hollywood’s gay community. Owner Scott Forbes, a Beverly Hills optometrist turned party promoter, envisioned the club as a visible hub in the heart of the community.
Debuting at the height of the disco era, Studio One was open seven days a week and reflected national trends in nightlife and entertainment.
Studio One remained in operation until 1988 and was widely recognized during its tenure in the former camera factory as one of the most successful discotheques in the United States. Since the business’s closure, the building at 661 North Robertson Boulevard has continued to function as a nightclub.
From its early years as one of the backbones of the motion picture industry to its later turn as a significant cultural anchor in the local gay community, the history of The Factory building has been one of transformation.
For decades, Mitchell cameras were the mainstays of Hollywood studios.
In 1941, Mitchell Camera Company expanded the western side of the factory building in order to increase production capactiy. With the onset of World War II, many of the country's manufacturing operations were redirected towards the war effort, and, by some accounts, the Mitchell Camera factory may have played a significant role in developing new military technology, including bombsights used in aircraft.
The building first became a nightclub in 1967, with owner Ron Buck converting the cavernous space into the high-profile, private establishment known as The Factory. The club featured multiple performance stages and four rooms reminiscent of movie sets, divided by repurposed stained glass windows, and guests sat on an array of furniture, including recycled church pews. Until its closure in 1972, The Factory was the place to be seen.
With the rising popularity of disco in the early '70s, Scott Forbes' venture into West Hollywood's nightlife with Studio One was a runaway success in the gay community. The disco scene first emerged within the context of New York's gay bar subculture, and dance clubs quickly appeared in cities throughout the U.S.
Unlike many of its counterparts, Studio One specifically targeted West Hollywood's visible gay community.
Forbes told the Los Angeles Times in 1976, “Studio One was planned, designed and conceived for gay people, gay male people…Any straight people here are guests of the gay community. This is gay!”
Studio One, however, did not openly embrace the entire LGBTQ community in Los Angeles, and Forbes was criticized for his exclusionary policies against women and people of color. Non-white patrons often asked for multiple forms of identification, which effectively barred them from entry. The Gay Community Mobilization Committee organized protests in front of the club in the mid-1970s in response to these discriminatory practices.
These actions directly contributed to the rise of other establishments such as Circus Disco and Jewel's Catch One, which openly welcomed and fostered a diverse clientele. Taken together, these places tell a critical story about the complexities of race, gender, class, and sexual identity in Los Angeles' built environment.
Its name a nod to its Hollywood history, the club could accommodate up to 1,000 guests, who were drawn in each night by the glamorous mirrored disco balls, elaborate sound and lighting systems (including the use of strobe lights, neon, and lasers), and the always-packed dance floor.