Each city has its own origin story for punk. It spread from New York City to London in the mid-70s with a Ramones show. The Sex Pistols in turn helped it spread through middle America on a tour. Around the same time, bands started up in Los Angeles.
There are bound to be a lot of different stories about where the first punk show was in LA, but most can agree on what the first punk club was: The Masque.
The Masque was born when Scottish-Irish transplant Brendan Mullen stumbled into a doorway from an alley off filthy Hollywood Blvd looking for a practice spot. A basement to a large building on the corner of Cherokee and Hollywood, it was a steal in early 1977—$850 a month for 10,000 square feet.
Scores of bands showed up immediately, and the practice spot turned out to be a great place to do full shows. Weekend parties turned into gigs with incredible flyers. It became an instant mecca for true weirdos and outsiders, where boys and girls of every background were all welcome on stage. The venue was located under the famed porn house, the Pussycat Theatre. There is even a stairway that leads nowhere, up into the ceiling.
The graffiti soon piled up, especially as many of the bands and fans were artists. Band names, lewd sayings and poetic thoughts became the building’s historical plaques. In January 1978, just five months after the first show, The Masque had its last official show, so ordered by the Los Angeles fire marshall. The practicing and occasional private parties with bands kept going through the year. But other clubs had opened elsewhere, and with them the punk scene took off.
Remarkably, the original graffiti has survived while the rest of the art deco building has been restored. The occasional photo shoot still happens there too. The great news is the current company, World of Wonder, celebrates outsiders and recognized the basement as an incredible landmark to art and the punk scene. The former basement venue serves as the company’s video archive now, filled up with videotapes, boxes and props. But the walls remain preserved, reminding us what punk really meant when it started.
Know Before You Go
Its private and the windows are blocked off, and now the alley is gated as well. But if you get a P.A. gig on a World of Wonder production, you may be lucky enough to grab some videos from their basement archive.
Here is a short video tour of the Masque, present day. Some of the audio is from shows recorded there: https://vimeo.com/50186231
For more info on the club from Mullen himself along with incredible photos from the era, check out the book Live at The Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley by Gingko Press.