A Stack of Vinyl on the Hollywood Skyline

The Capitol Records Tower tells the story of a place between art and commerce, jazz and rock & roll

By Beck

Text excerpted from 75 Years of Capitol Records.

One of the first things you notice coming into Hollywood is a circular oddity in a landscape of square. It sits to the side of the Hollywood Freeway and frames the sky westward towards the ocean and its innumerable classic Southern California sunsets. Growing up in Los Angeles, I used to imagine what mysterious happenings took place within those curved interiors. When they put up a seven-story Christmas tree on the roof during the holidays, it was one of the rare indications that there had been a change in season in an otherwise perpetual summer.

Later, when I was making the rounds to record companies for my first record deal, I finally got to see the inside. The building had a presence. Aside from the legendary music made there, you could feel the era it was created in — postwar midcentury California, with a confidence that the future would be much better than anything before. When I was growing up, this postwar vision had become identified with materialism and suburbanization. The idea that the future would be a better place was foreign, even naive.

In the 1990s I was living in a midcentury 1954 Buff and Hensman house that was completely intact and included the original owner’s furniture. When people would visit, they would reductively comment that its post-and-beam aesthetic, floor-to-ceiling windows, and Eames furniture reminded them of the Brady Bunch house. I always felt that these kinds of spaces contained an ethos of a dream of California possibility and its coming of age in the 1950s. The Capitol building tells the story of a place between art and commerce, jazz and rock & roll; between a golden age, urban decay, and rebirth.

This landmark is a survivor and by some miracle it remains — a genuine rarity in a city that has no loyalty toward or sentimentality about its past. Music has few true homes. The Grand Ole Opry, the Royal Albert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, Abbey Road, and Beale Street are some that come to mind. The builders of the Capitol Records Tower must have thought about the physical representation of the music that would be made by the label. Now, in a period of intangibility and ephemerality, the grand gesture of a 13-story structure seems extravagant. Even for those who don’t believe that art needs an edifice, this building is something to behold. A stack of vinyl on the Hollywood skyline. A rocket-age Hadron Collider spiraling out of showbiz ground zero.

As a kid, whenever we were returning from some far-flung part of the city in the back of a gas guzzler on a hot smoggy day, I can remember the Capitol Records building always signified that we were almost home, and that our interminable, screenless, seat-beltless, air-conditioningless ride was coming to an end. Now, having joined the Capitol family, I am glad to say that when I see the Capitol building, I am home. Long live one of music’s great homes.

Text excerpted from 75 Years of Capitol Records by Barney Hoskyns, edited by Reuel Golden, published by Taschen. Order online direct from Taschen and other fine retailers.