GHOSTS OF WEST HOLLYWOOD
I was just a kid in the mid 80s when I first rode down Santa Monica Blvd, past La Cienega Blvd in the heart of West Hollywood’s Boystown. My stepfather was behind the wheel.
I felt a tiny quiver in my liver, cuz I KNEW this was a sissy town for funny folks who kinda/sorta felt like me. The rainbow flags were everywhere, and the pink triangles protruded out of every storefront advertising that it was gay owned or gay friendly.
I didn’t know anything about rainbow flags or pink triangles, but I was more than curious about the men walking up and down the streets in their dark orange tans and teased bleach-blond—I’m talkin’ FRIED bangs. Some wore hideous getups like tight mesh tank tops with bright tie-dyed Mc Hammer Dookie pants (waaay before Mc H touched this fashion no-no). It made my stepdad look around with disgust. “Joto Landia” is what he called this gay patch of land, meaning Faggot Land. My neck practically did a 360/180 while I tried to see what I could see. Hello West Hollywood!
People think I’m crazy, but I recall a West Hollywood sign, which was a mockup of a mini Hollywood sign that stood over the embankment of a parking lot somewhere on Santa Monica Blvd. I never forgot that sign as a kid. By the time I started hitting the mean streets of WeHo in the early 90s, the sign was gone. I didn’t dream it up! I think it protruded out of the embankment on the north end parking lot to the U-Wash Doggie, right next to the Ramada Inn, but I’ve yet to find a picture to support my theory..
WeHo was scary back in those early 90s when the town was full-blown gay. If you were caught anywhere between La Cienega Blvd and Doheny Dr, you were considered A Gay. The stigma of the town at the time had you pegged as A Gay with AIDS—it felt that way anyway. But that didn’t stop my friends and me from hopping on the Number 4 RTD bus (known as the Rough Tough & Dirty) and heading west.
We didn’t care that WeHo was mostly white, or that we were underage. After our parents found out that we were out of the closet, it didn’t matter who knew that we liked boys; it was important to be proud back then. A bunch of us were reduced to hanging out at coffee shops, even though we couldn’t afford a cup of Joe and we hated the taste of coffee. We were hungry for a gay connection. We wanted friends, we were desperate for love and romance and of course we were curious about a little casual sex, even though casual sex was scary and more trouble than it was worth back in those crazy dayz. Most of us would just promenade up and down Santa Monica Blvd (the Other Boulevard of Broken Dreams), looking longingly inside Mickys (ickys) and The Rage (The Rag)—“Travel,” I would bark at my friends to follow my lead up the street. “Travel, travel, TRAVEL!”
Then there were the early 90s WeHo fashions. I’m talkin’ about whoring it up in tight wife beaters, shredded cutoff jean shorts and construction work boots with white socks crunched around the ankles. Sometimes those cutoff jeans were so damn short that if you weren’t careful, your balls would burst out of your crotch without a warning. I witnessed more than my share of a pair of goat nuts dangling with the breeze like a pair of droopy earrings while unsuspecting guys strutted their stuff down The Blvd. EMBARRASSING!!
WeHo was not pretty back then. I remember the cracked sidewalks before they were sliced and diced and opened wide to accommodate the pretty trees that went up to give the street that oh so very contemporary aesthetic. There used to be potholes all over the road and you could break a heel on the protruding remnants of old train tracks that ran down the median which separates the north from the south side of Santa Monica.
Gay Porn was the City’s bread and butter and every little Rainbow Shop carried some form of pornographic paraphernalia–be they nudie mags, naughty greeting cards, or silly sex toys.
There was International Male that tried to pass women’s clothes for men’s fashion by calling them “European.” There was Studio One with its back lot where they featured live comedy acts like “The Campers”, but we mostly used it to make out with boys. I dubbed it The Kissing Booth. There was The Revolver video bar, and that restaurant owned by Christina Applegate, which went from Ruby Rosa, To Faulkners, back to Ruby Rosa, to Villa Villa Kulla, to LUA, to Dudes, before finally settling down as the tacky Fiesta Cantina that we see today. There was the nerdy Abbey Coffee Shop, before it became The Abbey Bar, with their $12.00 martinis. And of course there was the Sports Connection (Erection, Infection) Fitness Club back when it was an actual club mostly for gay men, and not the stale gym of the present tense where straight men are vain and look gay, while gay men swear they’re bi-curious in search of other bi-curious guys, while they pretend the girlfriend is away.
I guess change is good if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s good to integrate and coexists and share a way of life with a hetero culture that for the most part is more accepting. However, change brought the demise of all those little WeHo boutiques that sold the rainbow stickers, drag queen Teddy Bears, and other queer inspired crap.
We said goodbye to A Different Light Bookstore, while Icky’s stands strong selling booze next door—goodbye Six Gallery, Marks Restaurant, Revolver, Don’t Panic clothing store, the Yukon Mining Co., Baja Buds, Drakes, The Athletic Club, Tom Kat theatre, Beer Bust at Motherlode, Edge Magazine, FAB! Newspaper and the list goes on—I hear the Bodhi Tree Bookstore is also on its way out and rumor also has it that 24-Hour Fitness is closing down for “repairs.” The last gym to close for improvements in West Hollywood was the Athletic Club on the corner of Santa Monica and West Knoll next to Koo Koo Roo. It is still a boarded-up empty rat’s nest for hobos ten years later. I hate slumming it at 24-Hour Shitness, but a shitty gym is better than no gym at all. We shall see.
Anyway, West Hollywood is now just a city where people live and drink Starbucks Coffee, so WHY am I wasting beautiful blog space on the ghosts of this town, you ask? The movie Milk starring Sean Penn, which chronicles the life and times of Harvey Milk is in heavy rotation on HBO right now. Every time I see the depiction of a gay ghetto in San Francisco circa the 80s, I’m reminded of the gay ghetto that was once West Hollywood in the early 90s. I didn’t think much of it then, but in retrospect I’m kinda/sorta grateful that I got a taste of a real gay community in those early years, even if I only experienced the tail end of what was once a gay bubble where gay people gathered to be exactly that…gay.
Below are some cool pics that I found of what West Hollywood was like circa 1982, which was like waaayyy before my time (cough, cough). They are courtesy of someone with the screen name The New Mr Burlesk via Flickr.com.
What do you remember most about West Hollywood? What do you wish you could forget?