The Ivar Theatre

"Colder than a ticket taker's smile at the Ivar Theatre, on a Saturday night"

In July, 1975 Waits recorded the double live album "Nighthawks At The Diner". The album would have to showcase the compelling Tom Waits stage persona. They recorded 4 sold out shows two nights in a row and had every show opened by a Hollywood stripper called Dwana (or Dawn?). Apparently Waits had recently discovered the Hollywood strip scene, as he had included this certain "Ivar Theater" in two of his songs.


The IvarTheatre, late 60's (?)
(Source: So Fein: Art Fein at OverSight.com)


Listen to audio excerpt of Emotional Weather Report
"... Colder than a ticket taker's smile at the Ivar Theatre, on a Saturday night"
(Nighthawks At The Diner, 1975)


Listen to audio excerpt of Spare Parts 1
"... Ivar Theatre with live burlesque, man the manager's scrowlin', with his feet on his desk"
(Nighthawks At The Diner, 1975)


Listen to audio excerpt of The One That Got Away
"... Andre is at the piano behind the Ivar in the sewers"
(Small Change, 1976)

There's not that much recorded about the history of the Ivar Theater (on 1605 North Ivar Ave. Hollywood) It was built in 1950, with its first production "The Barrets Of Wimpole Street" opening in 1911. It had approximately 350 seats and it was a legit theatre when Lord Buckley recorded a live album there on February 12, 1959. These Buckley comedy monologues called "Way Out Humor" are regarded to be one of the best Buckley recordings ever. In the early 60's it became one of the few rock venues in Hollywood (the Grateful Dead played there on February 25, 1966). In the 1970's the theatre changed hands frequently, and ultimately it became a strip show theatre (owned by one Lee Witten).

The Ivar Theatre during its high-days in 1978. Picture credit Ross MacLean(8)

Ross MacLean (2004): "The T. Waits quote, "Andre is at the piano behind the Ivar in the sewers" (The One That Got Away, 1976) probably refers to a piano player at a gay bar, located down the alley by the stage door, called "The Sewer of Paris." There was a garbage dumpster in the corner between the two doorways, and girls could go from the theater straight to the bar. The bar held 70's glitter queens, lots of ageing closet cases, servicemen (the U.S.O. was half block down the street from the Ivar), runaways fresh from the Greyhound bus station who had come to Hollywood to become famous, thugs fresh out of jail, and drag queens of any race. I had a couple pretty scarey nights there."(8)

Ivar ad from 1977. Picture credit Ross MacLean(8)

Tom Waits in 1981 on the Ivar Theatre: "A burlesque house in Hollywood, right next door to the library. It was originally a legitimate theatre. Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce played there. Now it's just a strip joint, full of transsexuals. Behind the Ivar is another nightclub called The Gaslight(9). Used to be called the Sewers Of Paris."(7)

Waits might have felt attracted to the place because of the Lord Buckley connection (he'd often mentioned Buckley as a main influence). Even Elvis Presley had performed on stage at the Ivar in the 1957 film "Loving You". And the Ivar neighborhood, being Phillip Marlow territory, might just have been the thing he was looking for at that time. On the other hand, it might be he just felt comfortable with "the porno floor show, live nude girls. Dreamy and creamy and brunette curls..." One might expect "Pasties And A G-String" (from the album Small Change, 1976) to be inspired by the Ivar, but the song has the sub-title "At The Two O'clock Club", probably referring to the famous Two O'Clock Club in Baltimore (Baltimore Street. Baltimore, Maryland/ USA)


The Ivar Theatre during the 70's(1)

Ross MacLean (2004): "It's difficult to convey how bizarrely un-sexy and un-romantic the place was. A lot of the girls just danced around in street clothes, and took them off with about as much charm as someone undressing in a locker room. Pasties and G-strings were rare pleasures at the Ivar. EXTREMELY few of the girls used such things, they usually only appeared on a couple of old war-horses that had been classic burlesque strippers from the 1940s -- so the bodies wearing them were usually not anyone's favorites, and the accessories covered way too little. But those older women were far better showmen, and very sweet people to work with."(8)


Line-up sheet from the Ivar Theatre, kindly provided by Ross MacLean(8)
(Click picture for larger version)

Steven Leigh Morris (1999): "Many years ago, The Ivar Theater in Hollywood (now vacant after being occupied and abandoned by the Inner City Cultural Center) was a strip joint. I went there once, and the memory is indelible. The place was a dark, smoky echo chamber... Near the center of the cavernous interior was a single runway, adjacent to which sat a clump of men, their faces just about level with the floor of the stage. There were tables and chairs farther back, but not enough patrons to fill them. As dance music warbled from a warped tape, a nude woman wrapped her limbs around a customer, gyrating her spine with an expression of unmitigated fatigue. I remember another dancer arriving in a trench coat. Suddenly, that single garment was on the floor -- so much for striptease -- and she sat cross-legged, exposing her privates to a single, presumably generous tipper, from whom she never shifted her attention until she retrieved her coat and clumped off the stage. These women were neither svelte nor particularly sexy. The theater was a chamber of desperation, a mausoleum for souls -- on and off the runway -- so bereft of dignity and hope that had Nazis marched in to clean the place up, you might even have thought that it would at least be an improvement."(2)

Linda Thomas (1983): "I got a job at the Ivar Theater which I eventually ended up managing. Actually, we all managed the place, interchanging jobs and otherwise supporting one another. The manager didn't object because our self-management freed him from responsibility. When he argued with our decisions (like hiring a black woman as comedienne-MC, or hiring a 50-yr. old stripper) we voted him down. When someone in the audience started jerking off, the dancer would signal the projection booth and whoever was running the spotlight would focus it on him."(3)

Camera night at the Ivar. Early 80'S. (Source: Garry Winogrand (d. 1984) Images)

Carlos Guitarlos (2001): "The Cathay DeGrande was kind of like The Masque or The Marquee or The Cavern in Europe. You know, where The Stones and The Beatles came from. A lot of bands came from those two clubs. We used to play every Monday for two or three years, we missed three or four Mondays out of that time. Tom Waits used to come play with us, Maria McKee (Lone Justice), all The Blasters, all The (Los) Lobos, The Paladins.... You know, Eldon [Eldon Hoke aka. El Duce. drummer and front-man for The Mentors] graduated at the top of his class. He always acted like a fucking dummy. I think his starting line when he worked at The Ivar Theater when he was the film man or something, was "Gentlemen, pitch your tents!" and the guys would pull their jackets up over their crotch. At the beginning of every film, "Gentlemen, pitch your tents!"."(4)

John Boyle (1998): "The Ivar Theater. Seedy was an understatement.. but some serious hanky panky used to go on there in the mid '70s. On a couple of occasions I remember dancers coming down from the stage and going from one customers lap to another long before anyone did "official" lap dancing anywhere else. Wrapping of thighs around the customers heads was fairly common too. Fingers in pusseys was a staple. I have many fond memories of that sticky floored dump. Alas indeed."(5)

David Story (1998): "By 1977, Rene [Rene Bond] had incorporated herself. She sold photos and slides of herself through her own mail order company. And at Lee Witten's Ivar Burlesque Theater in Hollywood, she sang, danced and stripped nightly. She often brought her father on stage and sang "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"... After her performance, Bond signed autographs in the lobby for a dollar each."(6)

In the early 90's the place was restored to a regular theatre again and it's name changed to "The New Ivar Theater". Nowadays it's the home of the California Youth Theatre Inc. (C.Y.T.).


The Ivar Theatre, late 90's(?) (Source: The Los Angeles Rock 'n Roll Roadmap)




The Ivar Theatre. Summer 2001
(Photo credit N.N./ Tom Waits Library)

The California Youth Theatre (C.Y.T.) recently bought and have been refurbishing the Ivar Theater in Hollywood as a 285-seat theater for their performances, classes, and rentals.


Poster at The Ivar Theatre. Summer 2001
(Photo credit N.N./ Tom Waits Library)

"Follies of Grandeur" Inside the Girls of the Ivar Theater. A new play by Ross MacLean directed by Mark Finley. Hollywood's Ivar Theater was an infamous dive- and by 1978, the last standing Burlesk House in the United States. Lewd and notorious in its day, the Ivar inspired lyrics in the songs of Tom Waits, and photographer Garry Winogrand's images of the Ivar strippers have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Playwright Ross MacLean was the Ivar's stage manager and spotlight operator for two years. "Follies of Grandeur" resurrects the Ivar theater, the strippers who performed there and the men who loved them, as it follows the career path of a young drifter who finds a home on the Ivar stage (February 2 - 19, 2006. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00, Theater for the New City ~ 155 First Avenue NYC)

Notes:

(1) Submitted by Andrew Zicklin. as posted to the Raindogs Listserv discussionlist. April 9, 2001.

(2) Source: King Leer Mendes' Cabaret comes to L.A. by Steven Leigh Morris. LA Weekly.com.

(3) Source: Processed World: Toiling Tails: "It's A Business Doing Pleasure With You" by Linda Thomas.

(4) Source: HIP interview with Carlos Guitarlos.

(5) Source: Z Bone's Strip Club connection by John Boyle, 1998.

(6) Source: Rene Bond at Lukeford.com.

(7) Source: "Tom Waits: Waits And Double Measures" Smash Hits magazine by Johnny Black. March 18, 1981.

(8) Source: email message by Ross MacLean to Tom Waits Library. February, 2004/ 2005. Copyright 1994 from "The Ivar Memoirs" by Ross MacLean. rossj_maclean@yahoo.com. Ross J. MacLean is a produced & published playwright. Ross has written a memoir on the Ivar, and is completing a play on the same subject.

(9) The Gaslight (formerly The Sewers Of Paris) has been remodeled and renamed The Opium Den in 1996. 1605 1/2 N. Ivar Hollywood, CA USA.

Part of the Tom Waits Library ©1999-2020