West Hollywood – the US at its least Trumpy

 

 

In Los Angeles, David Whitley discovers a small independent city with an unusual back story and a penchant for partying under the rainbow flag.

On Santa Monica Boulevard, a sign says: “Car wash to the stars”. It is underneath a billboard advertising, for reasons that remain largely unexplained, “gay beer”.

It’s a snapshot that seems to sum up West Hollywood rather neatly. It should be a nothingy kind of place – somewhere you drive through between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. But it’s precisely that blank canvas quality that has ended up giving it such a strong personality.

Until 1984, West Hollywood simply didn’t exist. It was just an unincorporated patch of land within Los Angeles County. That didn’t mean it was empty – quite to the contrary, an awful lot of apartment blocks ended up being built there – but it did mean that it was largely ignored by police.

This, it turned out, was mighty handy for entertainment venues. Being able to go for all hours and allow all manner of bacchanalian behaviour without fearing police raids on a regular basis was good for business.

 

 

And, strangely, a lot of that business cropped up. Particularly on Sunset Boulevard, which became something of a mini Las Vegas Strip, with several hotels, bars and nightclubs springing up along it. Some of the names instantly strike a chord – Chateau Marmont, Whiskey-A-Go-Go, the Viper Room – while others have evolved into something 21st century but still enjoyably rowdy. It’s a place where mock saloons, sports bars and boisterous piñata-filled taquerias happily co-exist, and the weekends are all set for monstrous hangovers.

Santa Monica Boulevard, running parallel, is a little more eclectic. But it is also flamboyantly gay. It goes beyond mere pride into utterly revelling in gayness. Bars such as Blazing Saddles and Hamburger Mary’s are sloshing in rainbow flags and pumping out what may as well be a playlist of 101 Entirely Predictable Gay Anthems at wake-the-neighbours volumes.

This theme continues in the shops. A yoghurt shop boasts a rainbow-striped ‘Selfie Wall’, while Block Party WeHo brags about being ‘The Gayest Store On Earth’. Inside, there’s plenty of leather gear and feather boas. But there’s also #RESIST T-Shirts and toilet roll with pictures of Donald Trump on the sheets.

And this is where West Hollywood’s appeal comes in. It is the archetypal liberal America, and largely the complete opposite of everything Donald Trump and the cavalcade of hardline conservatives behind him stand for. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received almost ten times as many votes as Trump in West Hollywood. It’s a place that has signs in the window welcoming all religions, genders, sexualities and races, and is proud to make a show of this.

But this isn’t just a recent approach to life in this progressive enclave – the City of West Hollywood wouldn’t exist without it. In 1984, when Los Angeles County was threatening to remove rent controls and the AIDS epidemic meant a significant chunk of the gay population needed social care, the residents of the area voted the city into existence.

When a city is born through a desire to ensure affordable housing and look after the ill, that tends to strike through in the personality.

 

 


by David Whitley

  

 


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