“The best kept secret in Los Angeles”…in Los Feliz.
Every once in a while, we break away form Food and Dining to talk about…
…to talk about…
Well, one struggles to describe Wacko Soap Plant, since it cannot be put into a single box.
One the one hand it is a Bookstore, containing a collection of tomes that probably don’t show up on your Amazon “Other Customers Purchased these” list.
Wacko Soap Plant is also a leading purveyor of bric-a-brac, defined in the dictionary as miscellaneous items of little value. Wikipedia has a better definition: “lesser objets d’art forming collections of curios, such as elaborately decorated teacups and small vases, compositions of feathers or wax flowers under glass domes, decorated eggshells, porcelain figurines, painted miniatures or photographs in stand-up frames, and so on.”
Basically, things strange, unusual and weird can be found here. There’s also a Toy Section, a mixed bag of things that you can get for your kids, and things that are for the young at heart in the middle of their own mid-life crisis.
Hey, you gotta explain that collection of Dr. Who “action figures” somehow, right?
In addition to being a Bric-A-Brac Store, in addition to being a collection of fine, hand crafted soaps, it’s also…believe it or not, an art Gallery.
The La Luz de Jesus Gallery is in the same building. It’s a gallery that depicts…that depicts…
Ahhh, better let them say it.
Showcasing mainly figurative, narrative paintings and unusual sculpture, the exhibitions are post-pop with content ranging from folk to outsider to religious to sexually deviant. The gallery’s objective is to bring underground art and counter-culture to the masses.
Perfect. Couldn’t have said it better than myself.
And I didn’t.
So how did this begin? Well, it started as the Soap Plant, a family run soap emporium:
Soap Plant opened in 1971 as a tiny, family-run shop in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. Mom handled hand-crafted soaps, Dad designed the graphics, and sons Peter and Billy Shire produced original ceramics and leatherware, respectively. Billy’s outrageous leather outfits garnered him clients like Elton John and the New York Dolls, and in 1973 he gained even greater notoriety when his studded denim jacket won a design competition sponsored by Levi Strauss. The jacket was later displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of their Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900 – 2000 exhibition.
Eventually, Billy, now in sole charge of the place, moved Soap Plant to Melrose (where even I visited it during my early years in Los Angeles). Eventually, he was able to open up Wacko, the Bric-A-Brac emporium next door. And after that, La Luz de Jesus Gallery opened upstairs from the Melrose Soap Plant, and everything took off…
…no, literally. Everything took off…as in took off back to where it all started in Los Feliz, where everything is housed today.
Wacko / Soap Plant / La Luz de Jesus Gallery is a wonderful melange of things and ideas that seem in one respect, very personal to the owner, Mr. Shire. Not the ideas themselves, but the idea of bringing them all together. Seeing all these underground things, these avant garde things, these (in some cases) hard to look at things all together under one roof in this way, is only possible because of one man.
When he was on the Los Angeles episode of the Layover, Billy Shire called “the best kept secret in Los Angeles”. Even after the airing of the episode, it probably still is to a certain extent, at least to the world outside of L.A. But Wacko is a creature of the city, this city in particular. What it offers is 100% Angeleno, weird, wonderful, odd, strange and wacky. Wacko / Soap Plant / La Luz de Jesus Gallery may not be as well known to the outside world, but for us locals…we probably prefer it that way.
Sorry, Billy. We’re greedy that way.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Nothing too weird (believe it or not). They just ask that you check any bags you have at the front desk. No charge. They’ll have ‘em ready for you when you’re ready to leave.
Parking for Wacko / Soap Plant / La Luz de Jesus Gallery means that the Meters are a bit of a crap shoot. You’d best get there as close to 6:00 (or whenever the meters expire) in order to snag yourself a space. The longer you wait, the further rand further away from Wacko / Soap Plant / La Luz de Jesus Gallery you might find yourself. Which is not too bad. It’s a nice neighborhood, but this part of Hollywood Blvd. is busy and crossing the street to get to the other side might make you feel you’re playing a live action version of Frogger.
Short of that, you can try the Valet in front of Bar Covell. After all, Wacko does not serve food, and you might be in the mood for a bite. You need a spot to read that new book in after all. I managed to get myself a Metered space that night, and didn’t get a chance to check the price, but the Valet is there.
Failing both for those…well…you could try the Chase Bank a couple doors down from Bar Covell. After 6pm the branch is closed. I don’t know if the Valet Service is using it, but it serves as a paid lot at night, with one of those unmanned boxes to dump your money into. I’m not sure how it works. I’m not sure who’s minding it. I’m not even sure someone is collecting the money, but…it’s an option.
Tel: (323) 663-0122
Monday to Wednesday: 11:00am to 7:00pm
Thursday to Saturday: 11:00am to 9:00pm
Sunday: 12:00pm to 6:00pm (7:00pm for Wacko, Subject to early closure–please call ahead.)