For those who never knew that Del Rey had an underground nightlife scene – albeit short-lived – think again.
Nestled within the Mesmer Triangle on Teale Street near the Del Rey border is a nondescript warehouse that is flanked by a canine boarding business and film production company. Nondescript, that is, save for a rooster that adorns the top of 11822 Teale St., the home of Area 33.
The private underground club closed in June amid protests of noise and other complaints by nearby homeowners and is seeking to reopen in the fall. Donald Cassel, the club’s operator, says he believes that once the local community sees what good neighbors the club members can be, they will come to accept them, if not completely understand them.
“We’re trying to create community here,” he said in an Aug. 11 interview with The Argonaut. “We’re like a family here, and in the L.A. underground nightlife you don’t find that very much.”
Cassel is seeking a change in use to a 5,150-square foot nightclub from a former auto body shop, as well as a full liquor license. In addition, he is asking city planning officials for a variance to permit zero parking spaces in lieu of the 52 that are required for a change of use, according to city planning documents.
Cassel says the club has approximately 300 to 350 members.
At a presentation before the Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association Aug. 1, approximately 30 club members turned out to support Cassel. Several residents who oppose the club complained that the presentation was vague and that Cassel failed to explain what activities would take place at Area 33.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee voted 2-1 not to grant the club approval Aug. 2 due to a lack of information on a variety of concerns, but it invited Cassel back to make another presentation to the committee and the full board in September.
“I’ve listened to the concerns of many residents about the proposed private club called Area 33 and believe much, much more information is needed before I could ever confidently see its benefit to our community,” said council president Eric DeSobe, who voted in favor of recommending Area 33 return to the full council.
The underground club would generally be open from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays but it will seek to stay open later on the weekend: 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon until midnight Sundays.
Cassel says most of his members are self-described “night owls” who enjoy interacting with like-minded people in the early morning hours and enjoy watching a live art show, music and dancing. He says he encourages the membership to dress “sexy,” but there are no overtly sexual themes at the club.
“It creates what I consider culture and community,” Cassel said. “People come to spaces like this not only to dance but also to get to know each other.”
But not all Del Rey residents are convinced.
“Do we want a private club with a full liquor license with a park and a school nearby? Is this the kind of business that we want in Del Rey?” asked Mark Redick, a former Del Rey Neighborhood Council president.
Redick was referring to the new Steve Soboroff Park at nearby Playa Vista and Playa del Rey Elementary School on Juniette Street, which is less than a half a mile from the private club.
Del Rey resident Charlotte DeMeo recently visited Area 33, where a number of artists were constructing art pieces that will be transported to the “Burning Man Festival” in Nevada. The festival, which begins Aug. 29, is dedicated to community, art, self-expression and self-reliance,” according to its website.
“I don’t think there’s any way that they get 350 people in that place,” said DeMeo, who lives two blocks away from Area 33 on Juniette. “I also question whether they are going to have enough parking for the club.”
Area 33 was allegedly operating without city permits before they closed after multiple visits from the Vice squad of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific division, and to residents like Redick, that is a lingering source of ire.
“Operating without the proper permits) is a flagrant disregard for the law, as well as for the neighbors and the community,” he asserted.
DeMeo concurs. “I find it interesting that they were running the club for a while without permits, and now that they’ve been caught they want to do it the right way,” she claimed.
Cassel, who said he is a businessman and a general contractor, spoke on the claims that Area 33 was operating for months without seeking the proper city licenses.
“It’s the belief (in the underground culture) that this can’t be permitted,” he said of the allegations that the club opened illegally. “It’s the belief it’s too costly, it’s not guaranteed, and it is generally believed that in order to get the liquor license that it’s not going to happen.
“To be honest, we were just winging it,” he acknowledged.
When reminded that other clubs and businesses abide by city, state and county statutes prior to opening, Cassel said what occurred before the club closed was akin to having a private party at Area 33 where alcohol was not sold, but the operators asked for a donation instead.
“We thought we didn’t need a liquor license,” he admitted. “When Vice told me that I needed permits, that’s when I said, ‘I’ll get permits.’”
Redick took exception to the vagueness of the presentations to the homeowners group as well as the local council’s planning committee. “Why doesn’t he show the community what he wants to do there?” he asked.
Because it is a private club, Cassel said they limit their membership to those who abide by “ethical rules” such as no fighting and respecting neighbors. When told that most private clubs have somewhat similar generic rules, Cassel said the most important rule necessary for membership was having an abstract quality.
“Just be cool,” he said. “If you’re cool, we love you. We like cool people.”
Desiree Barlow, 37, has been a member of the private club for a year and a half and echoes much of Cassel’s views on Area 33 providing a sense of community. “It’s an opportunity to connect with people and come together,” said Barlow, who works in the music industry.
LAPD Senior Lead Officer Marcy Garcia, who was working with the Vice unit when Area 33 was cited for various violations, could not be reached to confirm that the nightclub had closed voluntarily.
Barlow said she understands why many Del Rey residents seem reluctant to trust that the club will bring a community benefit to their neighborhood.
“We haven’t reached out (to residents) in the past, and I get why there are a lot of questions,” she said. “But what we’re trying to do is bring in an artistic community that can be an asset to the community.”
The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee was slated to hear Area 33’s application Wednesday, Aug. 24, but the hearing has been rescheduled until Sept. 28.
Cassel said he hopes the city will understand his business concept and take into consideration that consenting adults have the right to gather after hours if they are behaving legally.
“I believe as a businessman that because we want to do good things, it should be allowed, especially if we’re not causing any detriment,” he stated. “I also want to set a precedent for the underground culture that I can do this by the book.”
But Redick said Del Rey should look for other types of businesses that draw community support.
“We can bring in good businesses with good jobs without bringing in the trash,” he said.