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September 18, 2003|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood's first super club, Avalon, opened its doors Monday the old-fashioned way: no red carpet, no velvet rope and no glitterati. What 800 ticket-holders did get was an acoustically phenomenal musical treat by Leaves and Stereophonics and the prospect of a new day for Los Angeles nightlife.

"It's unbelievable that this is where I used to come as a kid for rock concerts and they've turned it into this," said Vanessa Kitchell, 34, an Eagle Rock schoolteacher. "It's not even finished but already it's so different. It has a classier feel to it. It's an amazing place to come see a show. Anybody who was a regular here knows how bad the sound always was. They did a great job with that."

Far from finished -- workers were literally stapling carpets and painting walls minutes before the show, several pieces of furniture were missing and not all of the bars were installed -- Avalon also will house a restaurant and separate VIP club that will make the venue distinctive, for now, at least in Los Angeles. A sister club unveiled last weekend in New York City.

With the Hollywood venue housed in the 76-year-old Palace on Vine Street and the N.Y. Avalon taking over the coveted Limelight space in Chelsea, owners John Lyons and Steve Adelman made a little history by capitalizing on history. The partners spent $6 million renovating both.

"We couldn't build venues like this if we wanted to," said Adelman, 40. "These are two landmark properties and the timing just worked in our favor."

The timing for the opening, however, did not. A delay in the issuance of the building permits meant the Palace's interior could be demolished but Avalon could not be erected until two weeks ago.

"It's been so crazy," said project manager Lyle Schmidtchen of Brackett Construction, who was checking out the building during the Leaves' performance with a beer in his hand. "I've never built a club in 10 days before. I'm just glad we made the show."

And so was Lyons, a 47-year-old nightclub veteran, who remained collected even as painters were still transforming the gaudy royal blue facade to patina three days before opening night. The main ingredients -- Avalon's advanced sound, lighting and acoustical treatments -- and a strong early lineup of artists and bands, including Liz Phair and Lisa Marie Presley, were enough to open the club's doors, Lyons and Adelman figured.

"That's not the way we originally planned it, but we were committed to the bands already. It still needs a lot of finishes but as long as the sound works, that's my biggest concern," said Lyons, as the pristine sound of an acoustic guitar playing in the background reassured him.

Adelman and Lyons, already forces in the nightclub industry on the East Coast, set their sights on the City of Angels two years ago. Lyons, who owns 24 nightclubs and restaurants in the Boston and New York areas with his brother, Patrick, and Adelman, an impresario who joined them five years ago, wanted to establish one of their mega clubs on the West Coast.

But first they needed a location and a venue that could serve simultaneously as a live performance stage and theater, a dance club, a restaurant and a private lounge. And they needed a building that would support a massive sound system, light show and large crowds.

"The two of us had been coming out here and meeting with Realtors and looking at spaces," Lyons said. "We had a couple of false starts, so I'd drive up and down the streets looking and one day, I saw the Palace. I thought, 'Could that be it?' "

The partners might have been sold, but the landmark Vine Street venue wasn't for sale. Owner Kay Neil Wint, an attorney who purchased it in 1990, treasured its stellar, multi-dimensional history and didn't want to let it go.

Originally built as a vaudeville theater called the Hollywood Playhouse in 1927, the building went through several reincarnations that included live radio CBS broadcasts in the '40s and NBC's productions of television icons "This Is Your Life" and "The Merv Griffin Show" in the '50s.

Artists such as Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Prince have performed there over the years. It became the Hollywood Palace in the '60s and remained as a television studio until 1978, when a businessman converted it into a nightclub and dance venue. Under Wint, the club was known mostly for its all-night rave parties and concerts.

"Everybody kept telling us the operator didn't want to leave but we figured it wouldn't hurt to ask," Lyons said. "We met with her, told her what we wanted to do, and about eight months later, we bought the business."

A 30-year lease gives Lyons and Adelman the option to buy. "The past is not our enemy here," Lyons said. "A lot of great things happened here. Not too many clubs can say that the Beatles stood on their fire escape looking out at Capitol Records."

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