Fais Do Do. 28 Years Strong

Standing like a sentinal at the entrance of what I like to refer to as the West Adams Gateway (the strip along Adams between La Brea and Fairfax, gateway to Historic West Adams on the east and Culver City on the west) is one of the longest surviving clubs in Los Angeles, Fais Do Do. We felt it was about time we explored the history of this neighborhood gem, polished by years of survival in a rough and tumble community which is now experiencing a renewal with boutiques, coffee houses, restaurants and art galleries.  Fais Do Do was there first.

June18SteveTNN:Steve, how long has Fais Do Do been in our community?

Steve Yablok:Twenty-eight years. We opened the club in 1990 when this was a predominantly African American neighborhood.

It’s not been without challenges, but they only make you stronger, so here we are now in 2018, stronger than ever.

TNN:Do you have partners?

SY:No, I never really had a business partner. I had a couple of people who invested. I did have a friend who helped, a handyman I met in Venice when I had my first house. Mr. Burt was from New Orleans and a bit grizzled but I guessed being a handyman wasn’t his first love so I asked,"Mr. Burt, what do you really do?" He goes, "Well, I'm actually a jazz flutist and a tarot card reader, an astrologer, and a chef."  He also taught interpretive dance, and had been a community team leader in New Orleans when I met him. Well, we talked all summer and then the next year, I saw this building and I called Mr. Burt. I said, "Mr. Burt, I found us a building. I found us a club." 

He came down here and we cleaned out the junk and furniture and piles of stuff held in storage, and we started cooking for the locals here, and booking shows. 

TNN:Wasn’t the neighborhood sketchy?

SY:Well, I thought "Hey! this could be really magical" because it was on the dividing line with the white community just north and the black community south. My parents were scared to death for me to be here, and warned me that nobody was going to come. But I knew that if the artists came and the musicians came, then the people would follow.

TNN:What was the neighborhood like back then?

SY:Before us the place was called Napier’s Corner Palace. The patrons here were all retired or nearly retired. Some were postal workers, some had their own furniture shops, DWP workers, older African-American gentlemen who had their own gentleman's club here, but it was a failing club. The family that owned it was the Franco family, and they had a mortgage but they were in foreclosure, and the city had a vacate order on it. It had become a broken down pool hall with a dollar beer.  So the guys would come and shoot pool, play dominoes, and drink whiskey in the backyard. But it was in a really busted up neighborhood that was pretty gang and crack ridden, even on this block. Pretty dangerous.

TNN:It was during the crack epidemic.

SY:Definitely. Then the Latino families began moving in, so you had some pretty hardcore Latin gangs. 18 Street was really prominent, pushing back against the Gear gang and the Smiley gang. It was pretty, pretty messed up and frightening. But we used the music, and welcomed the artists, and we used the good character of people down here to survive. Then 1991 became 1992, and the Rodney King riots.

TNN:   So you were right in the middle of the riots as well!

SY:Right in it. I thought this building was gonna get burned down on that first night. April 29th, 1992, was my 30th birthday, so the riots began on my birthday. There was a gentleman here, Larry Maxi was his name. He went by the name of Larry King, and he was basically my first customer. He was homeless, and he stayed up all night wandering the streets, and then come in here when we opened and stayed 'til the end, and he'd help me clean up, pick up glasses. I said, "Larry, I don't have any money. I can't pay you." He says, "Don't, worry, don't worry." So I said, "Do you have a place to stay?" He said, "No." So he slept on the stage and was here the day the riots hit and he went out in front and hung up a sign, "Black owned." While they were looting the ABC Market and the Rexall Drug Store, and the tire stores, he said “Don't touch this one”. 

TNN:Did it work?

SY:I couldn't believe that when we returned, it was still here.

TNN:Amazing. All because you gave shelter to a homeless person. 

SY:Yeah. But we still had to deal with the city. Remember, this building was ordered vacated by the city and about to be bulldozed if we didn't do something. We had to get the building earthquake proofed.

TNN:So you were out of business for awhile.  How did you survive?

SY:We had been working with a partner from Chicago and got enough money and engineering together, and got an architectural plan to take to the city to retrofit this building. A week after the riot, with the city still smoldering, we got a stamp of approval to do our earthquake work. That day me and Larry King, and friends who probably didn't have any contracting experience, were up on the roof taking it off to begin the earthquake process. A real phoenix rising out of the smoldering ashes around us.  We were putting the bricks back on this important architectural structure, and I think historical and creative venue.

TNN:It became a real hope for change for the neighborhood?

SY:I think so. It became an anchor also for me, it gave me a real purpose. The fact that my heroes growing up were Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, Ceasar Chavez and people who had stepped out of their comfort zone, and spoke for liberty, and fairness.  It gave me confidence enough to fight back against the idea that this was a bad neighborhood. I saw it as an opportunity to do something good, to get people together, to heal the divide.  It really gave me purpose and a vision and helped with my destiny. 

You saw that young guy come in. He's not a kid anymore, right? He's got kids, and he's about to have grandkids. These are kids that were on the edge of gang life. They either say I'm growing up in a ghetto, or I'm growing up in a neighborhood where there's a world-class club. Where Denzel Washington had visited, and BB King played. 

TNN:You focused on music as the means.

SY:At first, I wanted to play blues and jazz but it was really hard to get any reputation going for that. Jazz and blues toward the end of the '90s was basically like my grandparents' music. Also it was easy to get the four white boy rock bands down here, but to pay good jazz men to come here to play to an audience that may or may not be there was really challenging. We kind of fell into being hip hop and rap, which was emerging as we were starting.

TNN:Was it able to support you?

SY:Not enough. Thankfully the space is beautiful, Prior to getting Fais Do Do I’d worked in the film business so I sent photos to location managers and film makers.  It can be made to look like anywhere world, modern or back in the '30s, so we’ve done a great deal of filming here. We also had a lot of music videos, a lot of photo shoots, private events, wrap parties. In the meantime, we were booking some great stuff and got a reputation for helping new artists get their feet.

The Black Eyed Peas had been playing college shows, but they played their first real gig here. I could say confidently that bands like Jurassic 5, or Ozone Motley, or Aceyalone were bands that found their footing in places like this.

TNN:I wonder if you got pushback from the neighbors because of noise or parking?

SY:Yeah, well, we have really good credit with the community. We've been a go-to spot for their organizations and their family parties.  Every family on this block has had their quinceañera here, or a birthday party here. That's not a pay-to-play type thing. That's just something that we do 'cause we're family. But we always have security guards here who are less of a policing force than someone who's asking that patrons respect the neighbors.  I mean, I get from time to time, "Hey, someone's got their car, the butt of their car, in my driveway." Or "It's 1:30, it's a little too loud, the music." But it comes to me, and not to the police.  There is so little drama based on a club that's been here 28 years. Knock on wood, there's barely been a fight or any “hubbub”  here.

TNN:Businesses evolve.  What are your plans moving forward?

SY:The nightclub business in a room for 100, 150 people is almost impossible. My new vision is to become a first class eating establishment with all the entitlements that you'd have in downtown or Hollywood. Fais Do Do needs a facelift and a paint job. I’m thinking of adding day-time  activity with coffee and internet, vegetarian options, and barbecue.  Musically, I want to get back to our roots of blues and jazz and work with a really upscale booking policy.

Beginning in the fall I'm renting out my theater space to a theater company called Delusions who will do immersive and interactive theater.  They'll take eight to ten people on a journey through the building.

We also host Blair Barron and Julia Wyson’s  LA Drama Club who provide a space to give young people a voice. The LA Drama Club is comprised of diverse kids from Mid-City. Some have a learning or a stuttering challenge, and they'll find their voice in the theater.  We've also had incredible dance performances. One is Art for the Soul, taking music and interpreting it into emotive, progressive, emotional pieces, and there is Luminario, an artistic ballet and aerial production company.

TNN:For 28 years you have been able to preserve a historic and architecturally important landmark and keep Fais Do Do and its cultural contribution going. You helped restore  a positive identity for the community and most importantly, you never gave up. It is really an important part of the history of our community and I thank you for sharing it with us.

Fais Do Do    5252 W. Adams Blvd. Los Angeles 90016

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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