Project Proposal: A Chronological Look at Adult Movie (Pornographic) Theaters: Los Angeles, CA

Initially, my plan was to study the dissemination of pornography in the United States, however, I narrowed my focus to adult movie theaters in Los Angeles, California. More specifically, the development of such theaters in the 1960s and the eventual decline beginning in the 1980s. I want to cover the causes of these changes which include the introduction of obscenity laws pushed by conservative backlash as well as the invention and incorporation of VHS convenience starting in the late seventies. Pussycat Theaters and the events surrounding this company, in particular, have proven to be a solid focal point as their history is extensive and I can easily access their records, but I also want to include other theaters that catered to LGBTQ+ audiences on a separate page. The first Pussycat Theater was opened in 1966 in Los Angeles by founders David F. Friedman and Dan Sonney and the last has transitioned into a theater that goes by the name of “Studs.” Although 1960s southern California saw an initial popularity spike in adult movie theaters, strict enforcement of conservative obscenity laws drastically reduced the public showing of pornography in the 1980s.

When starting my research, I realized that some of my best options are to look in city records for addresses, Los Angeles Times and other local newspapers for news on grand openings and other events, photograph archives (also in newspapers and public libraries), and the Los Angeles Public Library for local obscenity laws. These sources will help me present a comprehensive and historically-accurate representation of the development of adult movie theaters in Los Angeles. I think city records will be especially useful because it will help me create an interactive map that features photos and any descriptions I can find. When creating a timeline, I want to be able to show how much of an impact obscenity laws and the release of VHS had on the popularity of porn theaters. Some of the questions I have now that I hope my sources will answer are: How did newspapers respond to the public’s opinion on porn theaters? What kind of laws did the government create after residents complained about the theaters (public nuisance, rezoning, etc.)? What year did videotape sales begin to compete with adult theaters and how did that affect attendance? What state were these theaters in, were they like “regular” movie theaters, or were they as skeevy as we would think them to be today? Big picture, what effect did all of this have on 2nd wave feminism?

Some of the digital tools I think will be most useful in this project are Mapbox, Google Maps, Google Graphs, Sheets, and WordPress. First of all, I plan on hosting my site through WordPress, as it is a flexible website creator that I can design to fit my needs. Mapbox will help show concentration differences over the years of the theaters and Google Maps will help me with the initial longitude and latitude finding based on addresses. Sheets will help me organize my data collection and then transfer it into the previously mentioned tools. This data can also be used when creating a timeline that helps show the correlation between laws, VHS sales, and active adult movie theaters. These tools create a picture of the numbers and simplify the data into something people can scroll through and understand.

I plan on organizing my website by Introduction, Maps and Graphs (Visuals), Historical Description, Popular Showings (Deep Throat, etc.), and Further Significance (What does this have to do with sexuality, why is it still relevant today?). I plan to have separate analysis for each page and creating links within the site that creates the most thorough understanding of certain topics. For example, “read more here” or “to see a graph, look here” especially in my historical description and analysis. I also plan on linking my sources throughout for easy access and so people can get the most out of this information, even if they have to leave my site.

Although porn theaters might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of history, they’re a prime example of how conservative backlash has harmed community expression and sexuality. These theaters were founded during the rise of Second-wave feminism which focused on sexuality, family rights, and inequality. They were a direct counter to what most people at the time thought was “socially acceptable” and they challenged these even through hundreds of lawsuits. Although barely in existence today, these theaters were an introduction to many modern-day technologies and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ members.

Primary Sources:

“20 Vintage Photographs of Pussycat Theaters in California From Between the 1970s and 1980s.” n.d. Accessed March 4, 2020.

“Los Angeles Public Library City Directories.” n.d. Calisphere. Accessed March 4, 2020.

“Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413 (1966).” n.d. Justia Law. Accessed March 4, 2020.

“Movie Theaters Operating as a Adult Movies – Cinema Treasures.” n.d. Accessed March 4, 2020.

“Pussycat Theater, Whittier: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.” n.d. Accessed March 7, 2020.

Secondary Sources:

Alilunas, Peter. 2016. Smutty Little Movies: The Creation and Regulation of Adult Video. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Bates, Stephen. n.d. “Father Hill and Fanny Hill: An Activist Group’s Crusade to Remake Obscenity Law” 8: 67.

Delany, Samuel R. 2019. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. 20th anniversary edition. Sexual Cultures: New Directions from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. New York: New York University Press.

Ickes, Bob. 2019. “From the Archives: What’s New Pussycat? 25 Years of Pornography.” Daily Trojan. February 14, 2019.

Miyatsu, Rose. 2019. “The Forgotten History of Adult Movie Theaters in America.” Arts & Sciences. October 4, 2019.

“The Last (Porn) Picture Shows: Once Dotted with Dozens of Adult Cinemas, L.A. Now Has Only Two.” 2017. Los Angeles Times. July 6, 2017.

Tidnam, Hanne Elisabeth. 2016. “Watching Porn in Public: The Rise and Fall of the Adult Movie House.” Medium. August 18, 2016.

Williams, Linda, ed. 2004. Porn Studies. Durham: Duke University Press.

Wright, Paul J. 2013. “U.S. Males and Pornography, 1973–2010: Consumption, Predictors, Correlates.” Journal of Sex Research 50 (1): 60–71.

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