The Capitol Records Building: The Story of an LA Icon

Capitol Records Building
Capitol Records Building  |  Photo:  Yuri Hasegawa

Located just north of the famed intersection of Hollywood and Vine, the landmark Capitol Records Building was designed by Welton Becket, the architect who also designed the Music Center, Cinerama Dome, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and the department store that now houses the Petersen Automotive Museum. The 13-story tower, which resembles a stack of records, was the world’s first circular office building when it was completed in April 1956.

Frank Sinatra at Capitol Studios | Photo courtesy of Capitol Studios, Facebook
Frank Sinatra at Capitol Studios | Photo courtesy of Capitol Studios, Facebook

Capitol Studios

The Capitol Records Building is the site of the historic Capitol Studios, where Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Nat “King” Cole, Sir Paul McCartney, and many more music legends recorded some of the most treasured music in history. The first album recorded at Capitol Studios was Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color. The Capitol Studios feature echo chambers that were designed by legendary guitarist and recording innovator Les Paul. The echo chambers are subterranean concrete bunkers that are located 30 feet underground. They can provide reverb that lasts up to five seconds - the effect is perhaps most famously heard on The Beach Boys classic, Good Vibrations.

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The red light and rooftop spire of the Capitol Records Building | Photo courtesy of Mark Luethi, Flickr

The Red Light

The building’s 90-foot rooftop spire, which resembles the needle on a phonograph, is topped by a red light that continuously blinks the word “Hollywood” in Morse code. The light was turned on when the building opened in 1956 - Leila Morse, the granddaughter of Samuel Morse, threw the switch. In June 1992, the message was changed to “Capitol 50” in honor of the label’s 50th anniversary. A year later, the light returned to blinking the original “Hollywood.”

Sir Paul McCartney at the unveiling of his Hollywood Walk of Fame star. | Photo courtesy of jeff_soffer, Flickr
Sir Paul McCartney at the unveiling of his Hollywood Walk of Fame star. | Photo courtesy of jeff_soffer, Flickr

The Beatles - Hollywood Walk of Fame

The stars of the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame are embedded in the sidewalk on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. The Beatles were honored with a star on Dec. 25, 1998, located at the Hollywood and La Brea Gateway. The Beatles have also been honored with individual stars, all located outside the Capitol Records Building. John Lennon was awarded a posthumous star on Sep. 30, 1988. Lennon’s star is often the site of tributes and candlelight vigils on his birthday (October 9) and the anniversary of his death (December 8). George Harrison was posthumously honored with a star on April 14, 2009. Ringo Starr received his star on Feb. 10, 2010, the 50th anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sir Paul McCartney was the final Beatle to receive his star, which was unveiled in front of the Capitol Records Building on Feb. 9, 2012.

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Restored “Hollywood Jazz” mural | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“Hollywood Jazz: 1945-1972”

Located on the south wall of the Capitol Records Building, Hollywood Jazz: 1945-1972 is a mural created by artist Richard Wyatt. The mural depicts legendary jazz musicians, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Shelly Manne, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. The mural also depicts the names of dozens more jazz legends etched on a stone background, including John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, and Charles Mingus. Originally commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society, the mural had seriously deteriorated since its unveiling in October 1990. Capitol Records funded the mural's 15-month restoration, which Wyatt began in November 2011. The mural was re-created from photos and fired onto 2,288 hand-glazed ceramic tiles to ensure it will be around for many years to come.

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Christmas tree atop the Capitol Records Building | Photo courtesy of In 2 Making Images | °L.A., Flickr

Christmas Tree

Angelenos know the holiday season has arrived when the Christmas tree atop the Capitol Records building is switched on. The tree has been a familiar holiday sight since 1958. According to Los Angeles Magazine, the tree was the first of its kind, designed by Ollsen Lighting and featuring 4,373 bulbs (at 25 watts each). Capitol Records has recently invited the families of legends such as Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole to do the honors and flip the switch to turn on the tree.