There has never been a place quite like West Hollywood. For nearly seven decades the city’s cultural and economic histories have been so closely interwoven with the interior design trade that many have come to consider the words West Hollywood and interior design as synonymous. There are only a handful of West Hollywood insiders active in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s who still recall the energy, excitement and zeitgeist of those early times. But what one sees, feels and savors about the West Hollywood design world today is the result of the visionary dreams and hard work of people who believed in what the community could become.
A 19-year-old Ronald Kates first became involved with the emerging design district in 1957. Kates had made a failed foray into show business when his father introduced him to developer Bert Friedman, who was tearing down buildings and houses along Beverly Boulevard between Robertson and Doheny and replacing them with showrooms for lease.
“West Hollywood was fascinating then, and it still is,” says Kates, himself now one of the city’s top real-estate brokers. “Beverly and Robertson were the main streets for the design businesses, with Melrose Avenue still yet to be developed. My friends were saying, ‘Why do you want to work in West Hollywood—don’t you know they’re all gay there?’ But I wanted to be there because I love a creative environment and I totally believed in the industry. Even as a teenager, I knew that this place was different.”
Many people at the time, including Kates, didn’t realize that just eight years earlier, in 1949, design history had already been made in WeHo. Legendary furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames had designed what would turn out to be their only enduring commercial building: a showroom for Herman Miller’s midcentury modern furniture at 8806 Beverly Boulevard, now home to DDC. (Still standing and sporting its original facade, the building faces an uncertain future due to…