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LAistory: The Odyssey, The All-Ages Dance Club Owned By a Famed Criminal That Mysteriously Went Up in Flames
Once upon a time in Los Angeles, young people had the chance to love the nightlife and boogie almost the same way the grown ups did, thanks to the popularity of all-ages, booze-free discos and nightclubs. One of the most popular and iconic of its era was the Odyssey (or, as it was sometimes known, the Odyssey 1) on Beverly Boulevard, which ruled the night...until it burned down.
A Haven for Teens, a Blight to the Neighborhood
The Odyssey, which opened in 1976 at 8471 Beverly Boulevard, catered to the under-21 set who would be able to hang out, dance to disco, new wave, pop and rock hits spun by DJs, and sip on juice and sodas until the wee hours--for much of its storied, controversial, and sometimes tawdry tenure the Odyssey was open until 5 a.m.
The lack of alcohol at the club was compensated for, at least for many regulars, by the availability of recreational drugs, and while some youngsters hit the dance floor multiple nights a week for good clean fun, others reveled in the chance to be part of darker side of L.A. nightlife. The Odyssey wasn't a gay club, but it did make a welcoming home for the city's young gay men and women, many of whom would later say was the only place they felt at home as they struggled to cope with their sexual identity.
Though it sounds like a heavenly haven, the club was considered the scourge of the neighborhood from the get-go in the mid-1970s. Area residents fought hard to see to it the club had its permits revoked--a tense matter that came to a head in early 1985, when the Odyssey's dance permit was on the line.
From a Los Angeles Times article dated February 20, 1985:
For years, residents of the neighborhood have complained that teen-agers frequenting the Odyssey--many of whom are as young as 13 and 14--drink alcoholic beverages, consume drugs, make noise and openly urinate and engage in sex outside the club.
In fact, according to one frequent club-goer, the club had already survived losing its liquor license, "because the Odyssey's main customer base [was] under the age of 21 anyway."
If you're thinking what is the point of a dance club if you can't dance there, well, that was basically what the angry neighbors were hoping to achieve. They wanted the Odyssey gone, period. And in a way, they won. But the Odyssey went out on its own--albeit suspicious--terms.
Eddie Nash: The Odyssey's Owner a Legendary Criminal
To understand a bit more about what forces were behind the Odyssey and nightclubbing in L.A. in the 70s and 80s, consider the club's owner: None other than Eddie Nash, the man known ultimately for his role in the "Wonderland murders" and a local legend as a drug dealer and gangster. In fact, for many, many years, Nash (born Adel Gharib Nasrallah in Palestine) was considered one of the richest and most powerful drug dealers and criminals operating on the West Coast.
Nash owned several clubs in L.A. at the time, including the Starwood Club in West Hollywood, the Soul'd Out club in Hollywood, Paradise Ballroom, the Seven Seas, Ali Baba’s and The Kit Kat strip club. (The last piece of club real estate he owned he gave up only recently; the Seven Seas is in a building on Hollywood Boulevard that is now converted to retail space and houses an outpost of the clothing chain Zara.)
One of the schemes Nash was associated with was arson-for-profit; a government informant linked him to the crimes, but in June 1982, Nash was acquitted. He also seemed just mildly inconvenienced by the ensuing trial.
From the L.A. Times:
Nash, an impassive cadaverous man who frequently dozed off in the courtroom, sprang to his feet, smiled and waved at the jury after the verdicts were read by U.S. District Judge Matt Byrne. Asked later how he felt, Nash said, "All I want to do is get out of here."
It was just a few months later that Nash was convicted on drug charges, and spent until November 1984, released after serving just half his term. A few months after that, a fire signaled the official day the music died at his club, The Odyssey.
But before we look at the unexplained fire that finally silenced The Odyssey, the events leading up to its smoky demise are worth revisiting.
Time to Hang Up Those Dancing Shoes
Day-to-day operations at the club were left to the manager, Scott Harvey, who was the face of the fight on the club's side as the story played out in editorial columns and the nightly local TV news. In August 1984, the club's dance permit had been revoked, but was reinstated when a set of conditions were applied to its operation, and the club had six months to comply.
The dance permit was on the line again in February 1985, when those six months were up. Some Angelenos were adamant about not letting the Odyssey have its permit permanently reinstated. "The renewal of the Odyssey Club's license would be an endorsement of gross violations of our sanitary, moral, health and zoning laws," summarized L.A. resident Carl Levin in an editorial.
The law tended to side with Levin and the like.
Harvey tried to get clever with work-arounds when the vote came down to take the permit away. One gimmick was to pay patrons $1 apiece if they wanted to dance, making them performers. Harvey said the agreement was "contract labor," but authorities who swooped in and squelched the effort cautioned Harvey and the club could be violating labor laws. Instead, said Harvey, plans were afoot to turn the club from a dance hall into a "major entertainment complex," he told the press.
One teen patron who called the Odyssey his "second home," said they would dance again: "If we can't dance inside, we'll dance outside," he told the L.A. Times.
What was happening to the Odyssey wasn't just affecting the one club, either. Teen dance clubs were a hot-button issue of the time, and the public and politicians were looking to curb their operations all over not just the city, but the state. In mid-February 1985, an announcement was made, strategically, outside the Odyssey, that state law-makers were looking at creating legislation that would crack down on the clubs in all of California. One supporter was then-L.A. City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who said during the press conference that this particular club was indicative of the state-wide issue: "But this is not just a neighborhood problem. It's a problem for our entire city, our entire society..."
During that protest, a double decker bus full of Odyssey supporters, as arranged by the club, drove by shouting slogans and carrying signs. One protester scoffed at the idea that the city government was protecting L.A. youth from drug culture by cracking down on the Odyssey, remarking: "[W]ho goes to a club for drugs? I can go down to school and get better drugs than at any club."
In March, Harvey brought in bands in an attempt to make good on his promise to change it from a DJs and dancing club to a live entertainment venue.
One local entertainment scribe, who has transferred his print columns of the era online, wrote at the time:
Some of the hottest local bands have been playing the Odyssey in the last weeks as desperate club manager Scott Harvey fights city government and local neighbors for the reinstatement of his dance permit. Monday and Friday night have traditionally been New Wave nights at this club, and for years it's brought throngs of young people to Hollywood, crowding the dancefloor to dance to DJ's like favorites Chuck E. Starr and DJ Steven or just hang out and play pool in the juice bar upstairs.
However, numerous complaints of public drunkenness, urinating, smoking pot, snorting coke and copulating in people's yards by late night patrons of the club have caught up to Harvey. He weathered the loss of his liquor license years ago because the Odyssey's main customer base is under the age of 21 anyway
But no dancing at the Odyssey, long one of the best, most popular dance floors famous for having the hottest DJ's in town, may surely mean the end of the venerable club. Where are all of the underage party kids going to go?
One of the last bands to play the Odyssey was Red Wedding, as chronicled by Billy Ingram, aka "Billy Eye" in his column from the time, which has been reposted online. (Ingram tells a slightly more dramatic version of the story in a 2010 new blog post that advances the action two weeks and replaces club manager Scott Harvey with the more intimidating Eddie Nash; we're inclined to think that things went down as chronicled then as opposed to 25 years later.) The column, dated March 14, 1985, tells what happened during the Red Wedding show on "on recent Monday," and includes a nod to the "no dancing" rule at the Odyssey and Harvey's attempt to switch out DJs for bands.
The Odyssey Burns Down
March 29, 1985 marked the end of the Odyssey, for good.
Flames swept through the recently closed Odyssey nightclub for teen-agers in the West Hollywood area Friday afternoon just after a witness saw a motorist throw what appeared to be an incendiary device through the front window.
Club employee David Rubinstein had been inside, along with Kevin Parr, who both had to flee the fire. Parr was the manager of Phazes in Reseda, another all-ages club run by the same group of guys as the Odyssey.
The Los Angeles Fire Department had no doubt about it: This fire had been deliberately set.
But who had set the fire?
Good question, and one that appears to remain unanswered.
Nash ultimately was linked to the Wonderland Murders and prosecuted, though that took many years to stick. The LAPD said in a 2002 release:
Nash was well known as the alleged mastermind of the 1981 Laurel Canyon slayings that later became known as the "Wonderland Murders." In that grisly case, four people were savagely bludgeoned to death in retaliation for an alleged drug theft from Nash. LAPD detectives arrested Nash and his bodyguard, Gregory Diles, in 1986 for the murders, but two trials ended in acquittal. Homicide detectives had long suspected that Nash bribed a lone dissenting juror in that case. [...]
On May 16, 2000, Nash was successfully indicted by a Los Angeles Federal Grand Jury on 16 criminal counts stemming from activities reaching back to the early 1970's in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. Evidence has been established to confirm that Nash's organization was involved in money laundering and drug trafficking through his Southern California nightclubs. Nash was also charged with Conspiracy to Commit Murder, Intimidating and Threatening a Witness, Bribery of a Witness, and Bribery of a Juror in a Capital Murder Case for his involvement in the Wonderland Murders. By agreement, Nash, who is now in his 70's, plead guilty to the above charges on September 10, 2001. Nash was sentenced to four and one half years in prison. He will also pay a $250,000 fine and submit to five years of supervised release upon the expiration of his prison term.
Memories of the club linger on, with a few webpages devoted to the club, and message boards where onetime regulars can connect with old friends and discuss who is still living or has passed on (like Kevin Parr, who by one club goer's account, died in 2003 or 2004).
A Facebook group (or two) are set up to allow the former club kids, the DJs, employees, and entertainers to share memories of the music and the madness. We hear a reunion took place in November 2011, and that a documentary is in the works.
From one Odyssey-goer, looking back online: "I remember everyone, Odyssey was the best night club. I went dancing here every f(*%&( night. I close my eyes and I see everyone dancing on a Tuesday night when all the locals came and hang out. [...] Wow, I wish I can go back in time."
Additional references (other than those linked)
Becklund, L. (1985, Feb 19). Statewide law proposed to limit patronage of teens at dance clubs. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. C1-c1
Hernandez, M. (1985, Feb 24). Club pays patrons to dance but police cut in on fast footwork. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. WS1-ws1
Maher, C. (1982, Jun 12). Nash found not guilty of arson charges. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. B1-b1
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Val Verde; Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe; An eclectic house in Beverly Hills; Echo Park's Bonnie Brae House; Marineland of the Pacific; Grand Central Air Terminal; LA's Own Wrigley Field; How LA got its name; The wreck of the Dominator; The 1925 "Hollywood Subway."; The Pink Lady of Malibu; Lions Drag Strip; Disneyland...when it was cheap to get in; The ugliest building in the city; Union Station; Union Station's Fred Harvey Room; A Smelly Mystery at another train station; The Egyptian Theatre; Pilgrimage Bridge; The "It" Girl, Clara Bow; Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin; Get Involved!; Houdini's House; Spanish Kitchen; The Platinum Blonde; Chutes Park; Fatty Arbuckle; The Brown Derby; Griffith Park; The Outpost Sign; Cross Roads of the World; Sowden House; Monkey Island; Carthay Circle Theater; The Post-War House & the Home of Tomorrow; Dan the Miner; Tropical Ice Gardens; William Desmond Taylor; Alligator Farm; Schwab's Pharmacy; Tail O' the Pup; Good Reads; Fatty Arbuckle's Plantation Cafe; The Garden of Allah, Mapping LAistory, The Pan Pacific Auditorium; Pickfair; Tower of Wooden Pallets; Hollyhock House; Randy's Donuts; the Ennis House; Helms Bakery Coaches, The Ambassador Hotel; The Cocoanut Grove; Busch Gardens in Van Nuys; The Battle of Santa Monica Bay; Clifton's Cafeterias; Hollywood's Fred Harvey Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge; The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.