When Kate and Bill Nelson purchased the Palace in Hollywood in 1991, they viewed the historic nightclub as an investment. At the time, the two attorneys had no experience running such a venture. Six years and a lot of hard work later, Kate Nelson could write the book. The former litigator now manages the Palace, while her husband still tends to their law firm, and despite some enormous obstacles, she's managed quite nicely.
Strike one up for naivete, she says.
Nelson says she went on a mission to find out from her employees and customers what they felt the club needed, and taking the responses to heart, she made sweeping changes. Ultimately, she brought the 70-year-old club out of a state of decay and upgraded it to such a degree that it's become Hollywood's finest live music venue.
It seems like such a novel idea, to actually ask the people what they want, but it's not terribly common in the L.A. club scene.
"I figured that's how all the club owners did it," she says. "Then I found out that's not how they do it at all, but it worked for me. There's not one inch of this building we haven't touched."
That's not to say it's been easy. Shortly after they purchased the Palace, the 1,200-capacity club got hit with physical sturm and drang of biblical proportions. An earthquake, a fire and flooding would be enough for anyone to get cold feet. Combine these calamities with the serious state of disrepair of the building, and you've got enough to make anyone walk.
But Nelson says she's a sucker for a glorious past, and it was her ambition to not let the venerable Art Deco theater get torn down.
With more than $1 million in renovations, the Palace is dazzling again. "What we love is when the big 18-wheeler following the band pulls up, the technical people come into the building and check things out, then leave all their own equipment on the truck," she says. "This happens all the time. We have the strobes, we have the computerized lights, we have the sound, we have it all."
Not to mention, they have the key ingredient, the music. Artists from Nirvana to Green Day (which is due to return shortly) played their first big L.A. shows at the Palace, and bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails have used the club as a warm-up venue for national tours.
"They can get a sense of how the audience is responding because it's so much more intimate here than a venue like the Forum," says Nelson, who recently enhanced the club's intimacy by painting the interior's 90-foot walls from a coolish white to a custom-colored plum, warming up the bi-level club considerably.
It also helps that L.A.'s hottest concert promoter, Golden Voice, books weekly shows at the Palace, with most shows selling out. In addition, its 18-and-over dance clubs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays draw another 600 to 700 youths each night, with Friday night's KROQ tie-in, featuring deejay Richard Blade, consistently popular.
Although the Palace began as a theater in the '20s, which explains its balcony seating and wide swirling stairwells, by the '40s it was used for live radio broadcasts and burlesque shows. In the '50s, it was transformed into the El Capitan Theatre before becoming a location for the budding NBC television network's variety shows. By 1964, it became the Hollywood Palace again and this time, ABC took over and began airing a show called "Hollywood Palace," which included performances by Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, who hosted each season's premiere show.
Another claim to Palace fame is that it's the stage the Rolling Stones first performed on for American television. "They were on the Merv Griffin show, and they insulted him," says Nelson.
But the Palace isn't one to dwell on the ghost of pop music's past. Last night's sold-out Sugar Ray and Smashmouth doubleheader is indicative of its policy to get artists on the rise. Other upcoming shows to look for are the Violent Femmes on Tuesday, as well as dates by the Charlatans U.K. (Oct. 11), Pennywise (Oct. 15-16) and the Royal Crown Revue (Oct. 17).
Now that she's spent six years learning the nightclub business, Nelson says she's not going to be switching careers any time soon.
"Now, all I do is plan for people to have fun. What could be better than that?"
The Palace, 1735 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (213) 462-3000. Concerts all ages, dance clubs 18 and over.