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A look back at Hollywood’s underground gay club culture of the 1970s

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When low rents attracted informal night clubs and intimate discos

West Hollywood has long been the rainbow-draped capital of the gay community in Los Angeles, but in an article for KCET, city planner James Rojas describes the diverse and somewhat under-the-radar gay disco circuit of 1970s Hollywood. During this time, underused storefronts and warehouses with low rents became intimate dance clubs by night—often, as Rojas points out, in spaces smaller than 3,000 square feet.

For Rojas and his friends, who grew up in East LA, the small nightclubs became refuges from the expectations of family and community:

"The dance floors of such Hollywood and North Hollywood clubs as the Outer Limits, Other Side, Paradise Ballroom, Sugar Shack, After Dark, Gino’s II, and, ultimately, Circus were where we communicated with our bodies – an essential, enduring part of our queer development and identity," he writes.

The latter club, established in 1974, was formerly located at Santa Monica Boulevard and Las Palmas Avenue. The popular disco formed in response to prejudice within the gay community, as one of its founders told LA Weekly in 2015. Eventually, it grew into a destination for LGBT people of color, lasting into the new millennium as an EDM venue. Now, developers are razing most of the structure to make way for a large mixed-use project.

Another lost establishment mentioned by Rojas is Arthur J’s coffee shop, once located at the intersection of Highland and Santa Monica. He describes the restaurant and popular pickup spot as exemplifying the, "quiet world of mainstream gay white culture." In Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’s Gay LA, the authors describe how restaurant staff used to splash the bathroom floors with ammonia—the smell encouraging patrons not to linger longer than necessary.

Rojas’s story paints a picture of a part of Hollywood’s history not often told, but hugely influential on the lives of the LGBT youth that flocked there from across Southern California. "At that time in our lives we were not able to talk about our sexual identity, but we could perform it on the dance floor while burning off our youthful energy," he writes.