“They came because the rent was low. It was all warehouses and people could open showrooms and not pay the prices at the mart,” Greg Firlotte says of the beginnings of what was to become the West Hollywood Design District. “And it was unincorporated, so there were fewer restrictions and more freedom to do things you couldn’t within the city. There was a Wild West aspect where Bohemian types could start things.”
Firlotte, a Design District and design industry veteran, was tapped to curate a new exhibition, Decades of Design, 1948–2014, opening November 19, at the West Hollywood Library. The show traces the history of area via its story as a design mecca, from its beginnings in 1948, when the Carl Marias carpet showroom first opened (after moving several times, the company is still in business in WeHo). Other seminal events covered include the opening of the Eames-designed Herman Miller showroom and the arrival of the PDC in 1976. “The whole district changed dramatically then,” Firlotte points out. “It brought along a lot of other businesses.”
Many of the show’s images have never been seen by the public. “I started looking through personal and corporate archives,” says Firlotte. “I had a lot of ‘Oh my God’ moments,” he says, including coming across the first ever map of the district, published in 1964. He was able to mine Herman Miller's collection, that of Phyllis Morris and those of other notable firms and individuals.
Once the show closes, it will live on as a permanent online archive, preserving the legacy of a critical piece of design history. “There are a lot of things for the design to trade to discover,” notes Firlotte.