By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Actually, the most striking and welcome way in which England has changed since I left is the unselfconscious grace with which the English, or at any rate the urban English, wear their multiracialism. At my London primary school in the 1950s, I, a new immigrant from Israel, was the most exotic specimen the school had. Now, wherever you go in the city, including the traditionally all-black Notting Hill Carnival, you can see interracial families (far more than one sees in polyglot Los Angeles), and no one in this famously racist and xenophobic country seems to bat an eyelid. You could be forgiven for thinking that WASPs have pretty much had it as an elite — until you leave the city. In the determinedly Olde Worlde Norfolk village of Burnham Market on the southeast coast, my Chinese daughter turned every coifed head among the twin-set-and-pearls dowagers shopping on the main street. Even the ice cream van by the beach offered venison butties.
That evening our friends sprang for a pricey dinner at the Hoste Arms, an upmarket Fawlty Towers complete with stags’ heads and madly floral upholstery, catering to old and nouveau riche whites from London, most of whom felt duty bound to bring their greyhounds and terriers with them into the dining room. This was as much English class as I could stand: The following night, I sprang for fish and chips on the pier, and thence back to the sedate sidewalks of my parents’ North London suburb, where every day a weather-beaten middle-aged man — an affluent and respected local physician, my mother tells me, until he lost his mind — trawls dustbins in his underpants, muttering as he goes. In my Santa Monica neighborhood, there’s a skinny man in a thong who does just the same. Maybe England has gone Californian after all.
How can you tell when a landmark is really a landmark in Los Angeles? If you can still remember it after it’s gone, then it must have had some historical significance. Of course, the Palace, the Hollywood nightclub that showcased everyone from Iggy Pop to Rudy Vallee, isn’t physically gone. But it has been renamed and revamped.
Now owned by Hollywood Entertainment Partners’ Steve Adelman and John Lyons, with bookings handled by ubiquitous corporate monolith Clear Channel, the Hollywood Palace is now the Avalon Hollywood. (Soon every nightclub in America will be called either Avalon or the House of Blues.)
Just how revamped is the old joint? I walked south down Vine Street Monday night for the club’s opening to find out. Cranes were still leaning against the building when I arrived, and the smell of paint was thick in the foggy night air. The façade and the exterior looked the same as always, except newly splashed with olive-gray paint and white trim. That’s good, I thought, stepping inside. At least the current owners have some respect for history.
There were always a lot of ghosts rummaging around in the shadows of the Palace, which debuted in 1927 as the Hollywood Playhouse and was variously dubbed the WPA Federal Theater, El Capitan Theater, the Jerry Lewis Theater and the Hollywood Palace over the decades. This is the shack where the Rolling Stones made their notorious first local appearance, getting insulted for having long hair by Dean Martin on his Hollywood Palace variety TV show in June 1964. And Judy Garland, the Bangles, Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, the Fall, Green on Red, Prince and the Beatles are among the thousands who’ve marched across its wide stage. Yet for every musician who was honored to play the Palace, there were a dozen more who wanted to put a wrecking ball to it. Designed for plays and unamplified music, its high ceilings made for terrible acoustics, especially for electronic and rock groups. Tickets were generally overpriced, the bookers rarely scheduled L.A.’s underground bands (engendering even more resentment in the indie scene), and in recent years the decaying place seemed more like a white elephant than a grand old dame.
Wandering upstairs through the balcony, I looked for evidence of the Avalon’s new Spider Club, a club-within-a-club that’s expected to host parties, DJs and plays under the guidance of creative director Donovan Leitch. Renovations were still under way, with part of the upstairs roped off for construction. But it was slowly dawning on me that, with the exception of the interior walls’ fresh orange-pinkish paint and the relocation of some couches closer to the dance floor, the new Avalon Hollywood looked pretty much like the old Palace. To be fair, it’s difficult to accurately assess the Avalon — some changes are still planned — but aside from the bare stone steps on some of the not-yet-carpeted stairs, everything else, including the layout of the upstairs semi-open-air patio, the lobby and the stage, was pretty much as it always was.
Even as I was relieved that the renovations hadn’t significantly damaged the theater, I started noticing some of the site’s old problems. The sound was just as muddy as ever — the echoey bass tones boomed too much, the other instruments were lumped together in an indistinguishable murk, and the vocals had no clarity as moody Brit rockers the Leaves and Stereophonics dutifully trudged through droney midtempo sets.
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