Nine Things That Say “Los Angeles in the 1990s” and Are Now Gone

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I have lived in Los Angeles for 24 years – over half my life – so allow me to wax nostalgic for a bit. You non-Angelenos may want to tune out, but I still hope you enjoy this little time capsule of my first decade in town. None of these things exists anymore, but for me they are as symbolic of '90s LA as the O.J. trial.

  1. The Derby. Anyone who has seen the movie Swingers knows how central this Los Feliz bar/music venue was to '90s LA nightlife, especially during the swing dance revival. Although I never swing danced (swung danced?) myself, and wasn't drinking yet, I spent many a '90s night carousing with friends at the Derby, originally one of the famous Brown Derby restaurants of yore. The club, which opened in 1993, finally shuttered in 2009; today it's a Chase Bank.
  2. Eat A Pita. My first home in LA was near Fairfax Avenue, which in the early '90s was kind of grimy, the popular 24-hour deli Canters notwithstanding. I didn't eat that often at Canters – too expensive! – but I was a big fan of this Middle Eastern restaurant one block up, where I could enjoy a cheap falafel sandwich in a pleasant patio setting. (Julie Newmar, "Catwoman" from the old Batman series, apparently was part-owner – you could get a free postcard of her at the order window if you asked nicely.) Eat A Pita closed in 2007 and now only a vacant lot remains, even as Fairfax has transformed into a hipster haven.
  3. Aron's Records. The record store era is over: the death of Tower Records in 2006 was the last blow. But earlier in 2006, Los Angeles said goodbye to another music mecca: the independently-owned Aron's. Opened in 1965 on Melrose Avenue, it moved to Highland Avenue in 1990 and became the destination for new and used albums, in-store signings, and so forth. Alas, when the Bay Area-based Amoeba Records opened its gigantic Hollywood outpost in 2002, Aron's simply couldn't compete.
  4. Los Angeles Times Calendar trailers in movie theaters. For many years, in exchange for giving theater chains free advertising in its pages, the Los Angeles Times ran free commercials for its Calendar section at said chains. Some of these were painful. Most were innocuous profiles of movie craftspeople. All were insufferably repetitive. (They were eventually replaced by generic After Effects-laden ads for the Calendar and disappeared altogether in 2010.) I absolutely do not miss them, but they were a big part of the 1990s moviegoing experience in LA, as was the THX opening bumper. As for the dearly departed theaters that I used to go to, I wrote about them in an older list.
  5. The LA Weekly as a vital newspaper. This bit makes my wife tear up, but I was very lonely for much of the 1990s, and it was common to have an entire Saturday and/or Sunday completely to myself, without a soul to speak to. During these quiet weekends, I occupied my time with the LA Weekly, the largest of the city's free "alternative weekly" newspapers (I also read the Reader, later the New Times LA). The articles were meaty, the concert and art listings inspiring, and the crossword puzzles challenging enough to take an hour or two to finish. The Weekly is still around, but after various acquisitions, a refocus on online content, and a serious loss of revenue from ads and classifieds, it's dwindled down to a quarter of its former size. The articles have lost their edge and the crosswords are long gone.
  6. The Palace. I could write a book on how concert-going has changed in the last 15 years, but in short, rock and roll is moribund, and club gigs are now mostly attended by the 40-and-over set. Which makes sense, since that's what we old fogies did when we were in our twenties – go to club gigs. I wasn't as frequent a concertgoer as most, but I still recall many nights at the Palace on Vine Street, which has stood since 1927. I saw quintessential '90s bands like Cibo Matto, Mazzy Star, Stereolab, and Saint Etienne at the Palace. The building changed ownership in 2002 and was rechristened the Avalon. Only DJs play there now.
  7. The fee-free Ticketmaster window. It seems like a dream, but for a few years you could actually purchase Ticketmaster tickets to any concert in LA without paying the company's exorbitant "service fees". Incredible, right? All you had to do was walk up to their window on Hollywood Boulevard, next to the Pantages Theater. I don't know how or why this existed – a corporate experiment? part of a settlement in a lawsuit? – but it was awesome. Naturally, they would eventually shut it down.
  8. The Museum of Miniatures. Across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a squat modernist building was home to the Museum of Miniatures, the collection of Carole and Barry Kaye. This astounding assortment of tiny tableaux, which the Kayes only began amassing in 1990, moved into its Wilshire Boulevard location in 1994. The "MoM" closed at the end of 2000 and the Kayes sold their collection. A ten-year hobby for one wealthy couple that delighted thousands of visitors throughout the '90s.
  9. A busy, crowded Melrose Avenue. Melrose was really an '80s thing, when its punk boutiques and thrift stores were at peak popularity, but this mile-long shopping corridor attracted hipsters well into the '90s. It was one of the few places in LA where you could see throngs of people on foot. Today, Melrose landmarks like Wacko, Vinyl Fetish, and Retail Slut have moved away or closed, and half the storefronts are vacant. It's a ghost town. While you'll still find a handful of shoppers, the trendy stores are now located on Melrose west of Fairfax – and, as I mentioned earlier, on Fairfax itself. But those places are not about people-watching and being part of a scene. Now you just buy your expensive sneakers and take off.