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Jeff Stryker at War with His Neighbor

VALLEY VILLAGE – Paul Kulak’s club creates beautiful music. Paul Kulak’s club is a “speakeasy.” Paul Kulak’s club is in trouble.

The truth surrounding Kulak’s Woodshed, a folk parlor on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, remains somewhere in between.

Opened in 1999 as a place for a few buddies to strum guitars, it has become a flourishing artistic community – and a target for its over-the-top neighbor, who happens to be a gay porn icon.

The long-running battle over the eclectic studio has come to a head, with Kulak’s arrest, release and imminent eviction from the space. He lacks a parking permit and needs to soundproof the club to keep the noise down.

Facing a Dec. 31 deadline, he’s trying frantically to complete the paperwork and repairs needed to bring the club up to code and keep it alive.

“It’s a weird triangle with the porn star and the Woodshed and (Councilwoman) Wendy Greuel in the middle,” said Kulak, a frustrated singer-songwriter who opened the club as a haven for like-minded artists to showcase their work.

The players in this saga are, to say the least, eccentric.

On one side there’s Kulak, a juvenile delinquent-turned-javelin champion who worked in documentary film and music before settling into the video equipment rental business. He’s soft-spoken and tall and possesses a wry sense of humor.

On the other end there’s Chuck Peyton, a legendary star of the adult film world also known as Jeff Stryker, whose office abuts the 1,000-square-foot Woodshed.

After starring in “Powertool,” “Strykin’ It Deep” and the nonporn “Zombie 4: After Death,” he developed a stage show, cultivated a singing career and released a sex toy so successful it spawned both a lawsuit and an academic paper. He has a smoke-cured voice, an impressive physique and a diamond pinky ring.

For the past several years, Kulak and Peyton have antagonized one another, warring with restraining orders, zoning complaints and political wrangling.

Kulak says Peyton intimidates his clientele with martial arts displays in the street and bullies him with disco music. Peyton counter-claims that Kulak interrupts his concentration as he works on his memoirs and one-man stage show.

If one thing, and only one, is clear, it’s this: The men hate each other. Their mutual lack of admiration has spiraled from mere animosity to an all-out feud that has imperiled the future of the Woodshed.

“I’ve been tortured every night for five years,” Peyton said. “This area isn’t built for this. There’s no parking. It’s a business strip, not a place for a dance hall.”

Kulak says the two were once close and fell out after he denied Peyton the opportunity to perform a sexually suggestive novelty tune at the club.

Peyton denies this, saying they had nothing more than a neighborly relationship that soured after the club got too loud. In 2004, he began complaining stridently to Greuel, the Building and Safety Commission and the police, alleging the Woodshed lacked proper permits.

The musician does not dispute this, saying he naively didn’t apply for the permits. Once he tried to obtain a variance that would allow him to have more parking and get a license to operate, Peyton kept fighting and soured the deal.

“Like `Cape Fear,’ he’d have people park in my parking space,” Peyton said. “I’m like an old junkyard dog, so I came out and told them to leave. It almost came to fists, because they tried to say some things about my mother. You can say a lot of things to me, but my mother’s not a real good subject.”

And so their argument continued, back and forth for years. After Kulak was arrested in October on allegations of misuse of land, his landlord gave him an ultimatum: Get your permits in order by the end of the year or stop the performances.

Kulak rallied his troops into a letter-writing campaign.

The patrons and artists who arrived Monday for open mic night at the crazily decorated hangout – which blends beds, theater seats, animals and vinyl records – make for unlikely warriors. They look like lumberjacks, cabaret singers, English teachers and bohemians and bring with them acoustic guitars.

“We’re just a bunch of middle-aged folkies, man,” Kulak said. “He’s trying to make it seem like we’re an outlaw biker bar. As dedicated as I am to keeping it open, he’s dedicated to destroying us.”

So Kulak relies on people like Joe Goodman, a real estate broker and former professional musician. Goodman estimates he’s taken in 40 shows at the club, never noticing a hint of trouble with neighbors, parking or anything else.

“It’s very kick back. This is almost a ’60s folk vibe, only there’s no free love and drugs,” he said. “Everyone knows each other and talks together, like an artists’ colony. It’s a bunch of fun, happy, nonintense people playing together. … It’s not a rock ‘n’ roll kind of place, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Which makes it unlike a bar or any sort of regular club, according to the performers who showed up for the Monday night showcase.

Lisa Turner, a Glendale-based singer-songwriter who’s played there for several years, describes the family atmosphere as unique to the club.

Her long, wavy, blond hair shining in the lights, she led the crowd in a rousing rendition of “O Holy Night,” accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar. By the end of the song, patrons were joining in and enthusiastically cheering.

“It’s very supportive and loving,” she said. “Anyone who wants to play gets to play, everyone cheers and claps. When you’re a performer, you’re completely exposing yourself, so having a place where people will clap even if you screw up, that’s just so amazing.”

That’s fine, said Jim Britten, who owns Brittany Floor Covering on the other side of the building – just not in that particular spot. He initially supported Kulak but says he became frustrated with the noise and what he believes is a potential fire hazard.

He and Peyton have now joined forces in their complaints against the club and Greuel, whom they claim lends unfair support to Kulak.

“No one’s ever argued that it isn’t a great music establishment, no one’s ever argued that music isn’t important,” Britten said. “But making great music doesn’t mean you can break the law. He thinks that because he `does it for the love of music’ and has the support of Wendy Greuel that he can do whatever he wants.”

Greuel, who calls the Woodshed “a cultural asset to that community,” has been dragged into the middle of the fight, criticized by both sides. Kulak claims her office ignored his calls for help; Peyton says she’s unfairly sided with the Woodshed. He’s posted satirical animated photos of her on his Web site, www.charlespeyton.com, mocking her and her staff.

Greuel said she’s tried to set aside the unusual personalities of her warring constituents and focus merely on the zoning issues. After years of trouble, she said she believes Kulak is finally nearing compliance with zoning and safety codes that will allow him to stay open.

“I’m one of the biggest proponents of having it in that community,” Greuel said. “I’ve done all I can to help him and now, I think he’s on the road to helping himself. … As long as Paul’s fulfilled his requirements, he has every right to be there.”
 

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