Flipping Out on Santa Monica

When I first arrived in WeHo back in 1971, the large building on the northeast corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica was inhabited by a bowling alley called La Cienega Lanes. The origins of the building are pretty much forgotten by now but it is known that TV host Art Linkletter was part of a group that bought the business in 1946 and renamed it Art Linkletter’s La Cienega Lanes. The establishment was featured in the 1956 film noir “Man in the Vault” before closing in the late 1970s. 

Since I never got into bowling, I didn’t patronize La Cienega Lanes but do remember that in 1976 the record label for the legendary rock group The Who threw a party at the alley promoting their new album. I was working for the music biz trade Cashbox at the time and one of my co-workers was invited to the bash. He declined, saying “There’s no way I’m going to be locked in a bowling alley with Keith Moon.”

In 1979, the most memorable and notorious incarnation of this location opened – Flippers Roller Boogie Palace. Named for co-owner Ian “Flipper” Ross, this hedonistic roller rink was called “Studio 54 on wheels” by actress Jaclyn Smith. From the night it opened, Flippers was a magnet for the famous and would-be famous, the place to be seen and hopefully, photographed. 

When it opened in July 1979 Flipper’s was an exclusive, member’s only club with $200 annual membership fees for only 1,000 members, who also had to pay $7 per visit. Since some VIPs seemed to be there every night, those fees could add up. This policy lasted until February 1980 when the club opened to the public, which probably robbed Flipper’s of some of its celebrity cache but made it a popular hangout for locals. 

The roller disco shone brightly during its short heyday, hosting concerts by hot artists like the Ramones, the Go-Gos, and John Cougar. Famous regular patrons included Olivia Newton-John, Jane Fonda, Cheryl Ladd, Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams, and Cher, who was rumored to be a part-owner. The extravagantly decorated roller rink was a natural for filming and Flipper’s got its closeup on the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “CHiPs.” 

At least part of the club’s allure was based on its ability to attract an interestingly eclectic clientele that included gay and straight, punks and disco dancers, celebrities and wanna-be’s. Frequent patron Cher commented for the book “Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace 1979-1981”,  “Flipper’s was amazing. All the girls would get into their best bojangles and tightest, smallest cut-off tank top. You could go there and lose your mind in skating. Be free to get out of your own head.”

All good things have to come to an end and for Flipper’s the end came on Halloween night of 1981. After the much-lamented demise of Flipper’s, the space was acquired by the owners of the trendy Esprit de Corp apparel line. Following a very long and expensive renovation that included a three-story parking lot, the Esprit flagship store opened in December 1984.

After the 1994 closing of the Esprit store, the property stood vacant for a decade before becoming the Sav-On (later CVS) drugstore that stands there now. Since it’s the closest chain pharmacy, I drop by the store occasionally but can’t help thinking that this is a pretty dull fate for a location with such a colorful history.

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CHLOE ROSS
CHLOE ROSS
30 days ago

I am part of the Flippers generation. It was a wonderful spot and even when it became Esprit, it managed to hold onto the Flipper’s feeling. Loud; music and motion. Even as Esprit it still held the feeling. Happy to see it remembered so well and fondly.

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
4 months ago

Thanks Linda! I love hearing about roller disco culture, wish I had a time machine to experience it first hand.

FLIP FLOP
FLIP FLOP
4 months ago

I thought this was a story about commissioners on the PSC.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 months ago
Reply to  FLIP FLOP

On PCP perhaps 😆

mike
mike
4 months ago

oops. waterandpower.org

mike
mike
4 months ago

comment image
The above link will take you to a website that oodles of West Hollywood (before it was West Hollywood) pictures. The above link in particular shows the bowling alley.

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
4 months ago
Reply to  mike

Wish we still had the tracks down SMB 😔

mike
mike
4 months ago
Reply to  Linda Cauthen

I’ve heard that freight trains were running as late as the mid-70’s. The above website waterandpower.org has a picture of one running at SMB and Crescent Heights.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 months ago
Reply to  mike

The residents of Sherman voted to change the name to West Hollywood in 1925.

mike
mike
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom Smart

Sorry. I meant to say before West Hollywood was incorporated.

C.R.
C.R.
4 months ago

It would be great if Flippers was still there as a part of West Hollywood nightlife today, as something definitely different and fun, they at least have the roller rink on Sunset outside this summer, and they did this downtown this month as well outside. I think people put a lot more into going out in the 70s-90s before the personal tech era dissolved a lot of the need to in order to connect with people.

Christopher Roth
Christopher Roth
4 months ago

For anyone interested, here is the episode of Charlie’s Angels (Angels on Skates) filmed (assumed) at Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6tptd6

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
4 months ago

The Website queermaps.org confirms there was a gay bathhouse in their lower parking lot level, called “Rogues”, from 1980 to 1984. Anyone have any memories they want to share here?

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Interesting …I thought the parking structure didn’t come along until it became Esprit

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom Smart

I could be wrong, the gay batthouse may have been under Flippers rather than the parking lot. There is very little info on it. There was also a gay batthouse on the north side of 3rd street I believe mid to late 70’s, near Robertson. Close to the weho border.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen
mike
mike
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom Smart

8709 was the palace of fine arts;)

mike
mike
4 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

8709 closed down in the mid-80’s due to AIDS making bathhouses really risky. Cedars-Sinai now occupies the space at the north-west corner of 3d street and George Burns Drive.

CHLOE ROSS
CHLOE ROSS
30 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

The one on 3rd street was almost a household word in WeHo – except it was only known by its numbers. 8709.

mike
mike
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom Smart

Before the parking structure was built there was a small gym on that spot. Can’t remember the name,

BRIAN A SMITH
BRIAN A SMITH
2 months ago
Reply to  mike

The gym was the forerunner of the Athletic Club and owned by a title-holder on the national stage of weight lifting who happened to be gay; it was called Jim Morris Gym. Here’s a photograph of the place I got from some online repository.

Jim Morris gym.jpg
Joe Bologna
Joe Bologna
4 months ago

This was a great piece on Flipper’s. What I wouldn’t give to go back there for one day. If anyone has a DeLorean that has 8,000,000 gigawatts that I can borrow for a few days, let me know. (*Someone once told me that Flipper’s is also the first place Prince played when he first hit L.A.)

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Bologna

My recollection was that Flippers, along with The Speakeasy up on West Knoll off Santa Monica Blvd., were places that drew a large African American clientele. Flippers really reflected the spirit of the incorporated West Hollywood.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
4 months ago

Thanks, Linda! I love your local history stories. I arrived here during the Esprit days and I heard so many wonderful stories about the bowling and skating that came before it.

Mark Lehman
Mark Lehman
4 months ago

When I first moved to the West Hollywood area in the early 1970’s the gay bowling league had regular nights at this bowling alley. It was amazing fun and truly mind blowing to me that we could be so openly ourselves and enjoy the areas very best amenities in the midst of LGBTQ comradery.
The Esprit store was a marvel designed by the brilliant interior designer Joe D’Urso. I was so sorry to see it close and although I appreciate CVS’s services to the community, its bland reuse of what had been a remarkable space, still saddens me.

hifi5000
hifi5000
4 months ago

This old Flipper location sounds fun.I guess just like bowling,roller skating is out of style.Both activities are communal,but that type of feeling is going away in our increasingly impersonal society.

Too bad the article didn’t have old photos to show what the place was like in the 1970s.Real bell bottoms would have been shown.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 months ago
Reply to  hifi5000

I sold a TON of Levi’s “elephant bells” back in the day (huge bell bottoms that looked ridiculous even then)….but awwwww the memories of those days!

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