The Mystique of Melrose Avenue

How one mid-city street became the gritty pinnacle of West Coast cool

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Melrose Avenue was L.A.’s punk rock-era answer to London’s Carnaby Street. By 1983, it had become the gritty pinnacle of West Coast cool, attracting musicians, artists, tourists, and teenagers looking for the next big thing (or that special item that would make them stand out). Many of these places may be gone, but their independent spirit endures.

 

The Burger That Ate L.A.

The bun-shaped dome and glass-brick “onions” devoured a corner of Stanley Avenue. Now a Starbucks, its roof hints at a juicy past.

Groundling's Theatre

 

Groundling’s Theatre

The improv venue at 7307 Melrose is still a talent incubator. It’s long been the clubhouse for comedy stars just starting out, including Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, and Melissa McCarthy.

Aron's Records

 

Aron’s Records

Staffers at Aron’s Records were the trusted proponents of the growing punk scene. The shop, at 7725 Melrose, offered a range of indie labels, imports, and a 99-cent bin that supplied many a milk crate. Aron’s relocated in 1989 and went out of business in 2006. The location is empty at present.

Flip  

Flip

The thrift store was one of the first to make old clothing, along with the thrill of hunting for it, hip. The enormous space that once housed the emporium at 7607 Melrose is now occupied by several boutiques.

Poseur  

Poseur

Despite its moniker, 7415 Melrose Avenue was an authentic paradise for those seeking bondage gear and the social mosh pit outside. These days the spot is a clothing store that goes by the name Posers Hollywood, minus the u.

Koala Blue  

Koala Blue

In 1983, singer-actress Olivia Newton-John opened this boutique at 7366 Melrose, which sold tchotchkes and sundries from her native Australia (KOALA was the acronym for “Korner of Australia in Los Angeles”). The venture went under, but Sandy gets props for being an early adopter of the thoroughfare.

Golden Apple  

Golden Apple

The comic book store just east of La Brea must have its own secret powers. Independently owned, the operation has survived neighborhood flux since it originally opened at 7711 Melrose in 1979. It’s a mecca of Marvel and dc superhero imprints as well as graphic novels, self-published zines, and readings with such high-profile comic authors as director Kevin Smith, a Golden Apple regular.

Aaardvark's Odd Ark  

Aaardvark’s Odd Ark

The destination for motorcycle jackets, this used-clothing shop sat on the corner of Melrose and Curson for 38 years before closing in 2010. A sister store in Redondo Beach is still open for business.

Cowboys and Poodles  

Cowboys and Poodles

The throwback boutique at 7379 Melrose, better known as cowpoo, was designed to resemble a 1950s car wash and attracted a rockabilly clientele to match. It also carried such 1960s collectibles as Beatles-inspired boots for guys and pointy-toed snakeskin pumps for gals. Currently the location is up for grabs.

Wacko/Soap Plant  

Wacko/Soap Plant

Once situated at the corner of Martel (it moved to Hollywood Boulevard in 1995), Wacko/Soap Plant sold wind-up toys and other novelty items and was influential in the contemporary arts scene with its upstairs gallery. Now it’s London Boots, a shoe store.

Genesis Hair Salon  

Genesis Hair Salon

If you wanted a mohawk or a shaved head with purple stripes, you trusted the razor of Atila Sikora, at 5255 Melrose. Although Genesis is a thing of the past, Sikora continues to attend to the locks of clients in the neighborhood.

Retail Slut  

Retail Slut

He may have danced with himself, but Billy Idol wasn’t alone when he patronized one of the first stores to specialize in British-inspired Goth and combat styles. It opened in 1983 at 7517 Melrose; Cyndi Lauper, Axl Rose, and Nina Hagen bought their kit here, too. In its place today is another clothing boutique.

Photographs courtesy: Street sign: Comrade; Aron’s: Huffman Photography; Flip: Christopher J. Cutler; Poseur: Jim O’Connor; Reubens: Ken Sax/Corbis Outline; The Burger That Ate L.A.: Ned Paynter; Wacko/Soap Plant: Joel Fletcher; Punks: Kevin Planet; Idol: E.J. Camp/Corbis; Jacket: Shutterstock

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