The Wiltern Theater – An Art Deco Music Mecca

The Wiltern
Los Angeles, CA

Rock of Ages – The History of Hollywood’s Avalon

By Tina M. Courtney

Step into Avalon’s open-air entryway for any the venue’s multiple weekly events, and try to ignore the signs – a smattering a goose bumps, that feeling of déjà vu, and the undeniable aura of magic and memory. There are few places in Hollywood that can boast of a more lengthy or colorful affair with tinsel town and her dramatic inhabitants; for almost eighty years, Avalon, in various transformations, has been home to the city’s finest. Nestled on Vine Street, just north of Hollywood Blvd., the building has been basking in the shadows of Capital Records and the Hollywood sign, with a career so longstanding even The Beatles and The Stones seem fresh by comparison. She’s more alive than ever, too, hosting events almost every night of the week. Patrons often wish the walls could open up and tell her tales, and those with a flair for the occult swear she sometimes does.

First constructed in 1927, Avalon began as the Hollywood Playhouse, and upon opening, hosted “Alias The Deacon” as her first theatrical showcase. Throughout the 20’s and even the Depression-era 30’s, the Playhouse featured all manner of plays and stage performances. In the 40’s, the first major overhaul wrapped, and the Playhouse, now called El Capitan, opened with “Ken Murray’s Blackouts,” a variety show with a punch of burlesque that played almost 4,000 shows – a record still unbroken today.

Next came the television heydays, and in 1963, another transformation. Renamed The Jerry Lewis Theatre in honor of the ABC-TV series it hosted, shows featuring greats like Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong were filmed on her stage. Nielsen ratings were long and strong, and the stars were almost endless – it’s as if the space itself held the secrets to success.

Slowly but surely, the venue, now known as The Hollywood Palace, began to highlight top musical acts. In 1964, The Beatles took the stage – their first West Coast performance, prior to the legendary Hollywood Bowl blowout. Each individual Beatle would go on to sing their solo songs to patrons as well. But in 1978, the Palace’s mainstay, a long-running variety show, was shifted down the street, and her lights went dark.

Rescued by a prominent millionaire, and renamed to a truncated “The Palace,” the venue was reborn yet again – bigger and better than ever. Now the building was poised to become the premiere concert venue in Hollywood, boasting a five-night-a-week dance club that rivaled New York City’s Studio 54. This was the identity Avalon was born to own. Prince, Madonna, The Rolling Stones, and thousands more flocked to the stage and the dance floor – a phenomenon that has yet to falter.

The advent of America’s grunge culture did nothing to slow The Palace’s momentum. All the great bands of the 90’s croaked out their melodies, from Nirvana and Soundgarden to Nine Inch Nails and The Beastie Boys. The electronica surge of this decade also got embraced by the theater, and the DJs that would shape the landscape of this new sonic frontier descended in droves. Sasha and Digweed, Frankie Bones, Sandra Collins, Frankie Knuckles – they all helped transform the stage at The Palace from a rock mecca to a turntablist’s utopia. Yet there has always been that faithful dance floor – whether it was full of headbangers, ravers,, or emo-pop fans, throughout the 90’s, there was always a manic pulse to be reveled in.

In September 2002, The Palace was purchased by Hollywood Entertainment Partners, and re-dubbed Avalon. Nowadays, she’s an eclectic, multi-faceted haven, sporting an impressive list of options. Rockstars a-plenty still grace her stages, like Gnarls Barkley, Sigur Ros, The Twilight Singers, Anthrax and Tricky, just to name a few. Friday and Saturday afterhours events are massively popular, featuring the absolute top tier DJs. Recent talent has included Danny Howells, Nick Warren, Seb Fontaine, and Junkie XL. The Spider Club, a swanky upstairs lounge, offers VIP treatment and more hardcore electronica tunes. And for hungry music-lovers, Honey, the in-house restaurant, serves up gourmet comfort food until 4 AM. Who says LA isn’t a night owl? Avalon, all by her lonesome, is keeping partiers safe and smiley at all hours of the night. Even as she nears her eightieth year, this legendary venue has clearly tapped into the fountain of youth. She’s more vibrant and electrified than ever, and each week, more irreplaceable memories are made in those walls. Someday, perhaps she’ll tell us her secrets.