The sounds of America in the 1930’s and ’40’s were nearly drowned out by the din of footsteps. Of running, of a mad escape from a quaking society and economy, from a fear in Europe that was supposedly ground into the earth in 1919.
People ran in the 1930’s: from the miasma of the Depression that wrapped around and suffocated the good lives that they had struggled for and for which they traveled from foreign slums to the processing plant of Ellis Island. They ran in the 1940’s: from war, from death lists, from the bloody desecrations they thought had ended with the war that had promised to end all wars.
People needed to escape. They wanted to hide beneath the comforting shadow cast by the home front. They needed entertainment – entertainment that was brash, garish, unsubtle. They wanted to bask in the exotic and exciting, without being troubled by historical accuracy or possible cultural misrepresentation. They wanted to see things they could not hope to see in their frightened lives.
So it was no surprise that these decades witnessed the birth of the dance/supper club. No more hidden 1920’s pillboxes, folding up and relocating like an army barracks after the most recent police raid – these clubs were lush and madcap, catering to the whims of a saddened population.
These havens were often built around a theme: New Orleans, San Francisco, The Orient, The Islands. There was one in particular: “The 7 Seas” – located on 6904 Hollywood Blvd. It opened the mid 1930’s, under the ownership of Ray Haller, as a ‘tiki’ bar: decorated with native portraits, breathless tropical plants, lava rocks; with walls layered in coconut matting and fish netting and Polynesian floor shows led by Sam Koki and his band.
There was a hula comic. A Polynesian knife dancer (who also performed the Samoan Slap Dance: an ‘island’ theme could be very convenient). Drinks prepared by bartenders stolen from Don The Beachcomber. But most famously, was its ‘rain on the roof': a nightly tropical rainstorm – created by sprinklers and a recording of a thunderstorm – which dappled the corrugated tin roofs that sheltered the extensive bar.
But time did pass – and cruelly so. In the ‘50’s, young adults listened to their music in more crowded, less creative venues. Cocktails were no longer de rigueur. Older – though not by much – adults married. Had children. Created a booming generation. Clubs like the 7 Seas were forgotten; and through the 1970’s crumbled and decayed, their decorations and trinkets crushed into the sidewalks.
However, during the following decade there was a resurgence of dance clubs. Very few of them were pretty, or deluxe; there were no themes – save for those drawn from the music that was played, and from what the dancers wore. At the 7 Seas, from the early to mid-‘80’s, I was one of those dancers.
I remember it very well – a great drafty room, surrounded by a ring of tables occupied by a crowd of hopefuls in the dark, eyeing the dance floor with feline curiosity. We were dressed in our vintage best: attractively seedy. I recall one night I wore black leggings, black pointy boots, a black turtleneck and a black-trimmed gold lame men’s smoking jacket. A boy much younger than I asked me to dance, and when I recounted this vignette to my friends, they breathlessly asked me what happened next. And I was bound to say that nothing did.
I went to the 7 Seas to dance. To dance until muscles and bones ached; to come home with smoke-stained hair. I loved that ugly, dubious place.
For dubious it was. I did not know that at the time it was referred to as the ‘7 Sleaze’. Then, around 1984, it was closed down, because – rumor said – of drug dealings in the parking lot. I didn’t believe this: certainly the people loitering in the back were rather skeevy, but this accusation seemed rather unfair. I didn’t even get to use my free pass, which I still keep in my wallet:
Recently I read what had happened while I was dancing.
On July 1, 1981 the Wonderland Murders, or the Four on the Floor Murders (for that’s how many bodies were found, and where they were found), were committed. The details were grotesque and depressing. It began with a robbery perpetrated by porn star John Holmes to settle a debt to Ron Launius, cocaine kingpin of the Wonderland Gang. He invaded the home of Eddie Nash – the owner of the 7 Seas. Two days later Launius and 3 members of his gang were found bludgeoned to death in their home, at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. Nash had intended to have Holmes killed as well, but decided to spare him, to teach him a lesson by allegedly forcing him to partake in the murders. Officers from the LAPD remarked that the scene was bloodier than that of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Holmes and Nash were tried and acquitted in 1982 by a hung jury, 11-1. Nash supposedly bribed that one juror with $50,000.
The 7 Seas, where all I wanted to do was dance, was owned and run by a criminal. The club that began as a wonderland would end with The Wonderland.