The Fleeting Resurrection of the Iconic Aquarius, Hollywood’s Psychedelic Theatre
In my last post I mentioned that Quentin Tarantino brought many long gone 60s LA icons back to life for his film Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, just to serve in the background. One of these icons was the Aquarius Theatre, which is just down the street from the Cinerama Dome and across from another Hollywood icon, The Hollywood Palladium.
The Aquarius Theatre was only one incarnation of many from what was originally built as the Earl Carroll Theatre, which opened its doors on December 26, 1938. Designed by Gordon B. Kaufmann for Earl Carroll, a theater producer, director, and songwriter, the streamline moderne building served as a delightful supper club where Hollywood’s elite dined and danced. While the building itself was relatively simple, it was the neon that made it so iconic, which was the face of Carroll’s girlfriend (who also happened to be an actress, dancer, and singer), Beryl Wallace, and text reading “Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.” While the neon is long gone, a recreation of it exists at Universal CityWalk.
Ten years after Carroll opened his gorgeous theatre, he and Wallace died in a plane crash, and the theatre was sold, reopening as the Moulin Rouge in 1953. As rock and roll took the nation by storm, and a demand for teenage nightclubs increased, the theatre was revamped and became Hullabaloo in 1965, referencing the musical variety show under the same name.
Hullabaloo is also briefly referenced in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, with a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio dancing with Hullabaloo girls for a few wild and hilarious couple of seconds.
For the first part of 1968 the theatre was known as the Kaleidoscope, and legends like Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Love, Iron Butterfly, The Animals, and The Grateful Dead all performed there. Later that year it became the Aquarius, receiving a psychedelic paint job by the Dutch design collective The Fool, and becoming home to the musical Hair while also serving as a concern venue. While The Doors performed at many venues across LA, it is here on July 21 and 22, 1969 that they recorded portions of their first live album Absolutely Live. Hair lasted two and a half years here, closing in 1971.
The grand supper club turned teenage venue went through a turbulent period in the 1970s and 80s before ending up in the hands of Nickelodeon in 1997, serving as their west coast studio. In 2016 the theatre was given local Historic-Cultural Monument status, and the following year Nickelodeon vacated, just in time for Tarantino to repaint it as the Aquarius for his film.
Shockingly enough, the lobby has survived in amazing condition (take a peek here), but will be restored as part of a project that has been going on since Nickelodeon left. The exterior will also be restored, including the iconic neon. The new owners are currently seeking a tenant to do shows within the historic theatre space.
There is no knowing how long Tarantino’s paint job will last, but I honestly cannot wait for this space to reopen and to have another location to relive Hollywood’s golden age.
Visit the exterior (for now) of the old Earl Carroll/Aquarius Theatre at 6230 W Sunset Boulevard.
Anderson, Gayle & Harris, Hollie. “Restoration of the Earl Carroll Theatre.” KTLA5, 19 Oct. 2017. Accessed: 29 July 2019.
Earl Carroll Theatre. Los Angeles Conservancy. Accessed: 29 July 2019.
Martino, Alison. “The Aquarius Theater.” Alison Martino’s Vintage Los Angeles, 27 Sept 2009. Accessed: 29 July 2019.
Martino, Alison. “Uncovering a Secret Gem From The Aquarius Theatre’s Psychedelic Past.” Los Angeles Magazine, 27 July 205. Accessed: 30 July 2019.
O’Connor, Pauline. “Take a peek inside Hollywood’s Earl Carroll Theatre.” Curbed Los Angeles, 23 Oct 2017. Accessed: 29 July 2019.
Images 3 & 4: From my postcard collection
Image 5: Screencap from Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood trailer
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2 comments on “The Fleeting Resurrection of the Iconic Aquarius, Hollywood’s Psychedelic Theatre”
Thanks for the tip. I am always looking for interesting places to photograph.
Glad to be of help!