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.