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The Amazing History Behind LA's Glitziest Nightclubs

Slide on your monocle and follow me.
October 16, 2013, 9:30pm

Flurried activity at the Los Angeles Stock Exchange, the site of today's Exchange LA nightclub

Some people say that history has taken a full circle, and that everything's already been done. Disregard those sourpusses. We live in the age of the remix—when music producers are master distillers, wringing out the best samples and sound bites to synthesize new sounds. The same remixing is happening with the rise of raucous new nightclubs in LA, many of which are situated in majestic venues rich with buried history. When these theaters shutter, they're often replaced with newfangled music venues—it's not a wise investment to waste good old-fashioned acoustics on a supermarket.

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In an article about the local EDM explosionThe Los Angeles Times points out that rarely has so much money and talent been poured into one scene as it is in L.A. at the moment. Half a dozen new and refurbished dance clubs have popped up over the last two years, while local promoters like Insomniac and HARD continue to flourish. On any night of the week, energetic ravers are spoilt for choice. And all this is happening in spite of LA's super lame 2AM liquor curfew.

Amidst all the hype, the sparkling new facades, the paparazzi darlings, and the pretty boys, it's easy to forget the old-school glory that once flourished in the same locations that now house LA's superclubs. Which is why I'm digging up the history behind three of LA's glitziest party palaces. Slide on your monocle and join me.

EXCHANGE LA

South Spring Street circa 1939

Exchange LA's entrance today

When it was constructed in 1929, this building was meant to serve as the Los Angeles Stock Exchange. Three days after it broke ground, the market collapsed and the Great Depression began. Bummer. Today, much of the original architecture remains intact, including three bas-relief panels above the building's entrance. They were carved into the granite by Salvatore Cartaino Scarpitta, and each represents an element of capitalism: production, research and discovery, and finance. Inside, the ticker tape may have been replaced by confetti—but many of the clubbers are still financiers looking to get down.

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AVALON HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood Playhouse in the 1930s.

Avalon Hollywood today

The Hollywood Playhouse was built in 1927 to house theater performances and CBS Radio broadcasts. It transitioned to television in 1950s; in 1964, Bing Crosny hosted a show here that debuted The Beatles and the Rolling Stones on America's television airwaves. It doesn't get much more legendary than that.

Sometime in the 1970s, American audiences grew bored with so many televised musical performances, and the studio was converted back into a music venue in 1978. It was supposed to be the West Coast version of Studio 54. Prince, Madonna and Mick Jagger all wanted to party there because it was the legendary Hollywood Palace that they had seen on TV growing up. The 80s saw a slew of musical performances from every kind of superstar under the sun: Eurythmics, Culture Club, The Clash, Duran Duran, Erasure, Fine Young Cannibals, Tina Turner, and even Oingo Boingo pranced around its hallowed halls. The headliners stacked up well through the 90s, with Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and the Beastie Boys all taking the stage.

Avalon is now the 16th top-grossing nightclub in America, at least according to last year's Nightclub & Bar Top 100 List. That makes it the most profitable club in LA, thanks largely to their EDM weeklies—Control Fridays and Avaland Saturdays. The balcony where the television cameras used to go is now a VIP table area, and all the lower-level seats have been torn out to make way for a dancefloor. Walk in on a weeknight, and you just might find Skrillex or Dillon Francis jumping on stage to play a surprise set. It's that kind of club.

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PLAYHOUSE

In this picture from 1918, some baller has parked his horseless carriage directly in front of the playhouse, in flagrant disregard for the street sweepers clearing away the street's fecal matter.

Iris Theater in 1934

Playhouse was originally constructed as the larger version of an earlier Iris Theater that has long since been demolished. In 1955, they added a fancy new marquee, and in 1968 it was renamed the Fox Theater after being purchased by Fox West Coast, NGC, and Mann Theatres. This is not to be confused with the Fox Theater of today, which is in Pomona.

Iris Theater in the 1950s

In 1994, the movie theater had to close after being severely damaged in a big earthquake, and for a long time nothing happened. The building was used as a warehouse. But in June of 2009, Playhouse at the Fox made its Hollywood debut, and today it's one of the trendiest nightclubs in the world. The ceilings are strung with expensive paper lanterns and go-go girls, and you might remember that infamous photo of Rihanna in a sheer, black maxi dress—that was shot by the paparazzi here, proving that the more things change… the more they stay the same.

Elizabeth de Moya runs a dirty electro webzine called The Black Betty Blog. Follow her here. - @blackbettyblog