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.
By the early 1980s, Soap Plant was Billy’s alone, and he moved the shop to Melrose Avenue. In this larger space, he added books, ceramics and unique jewelry to his ever-increasing stock, and Soap Plant’s eclectic array of items helped turn Melrose into an internationally recognized shopping destination.
In 1984, capitalizing on a couple of vacant storefronts next to Soap Plant, Billy opened WACKO, a pop culture toy shop with punk rock attitude. Along with housing the largest collection of postcards in Los Angeles, Wacko also offered a veritable nirvana of Japanese robots, tin wind-ups, gimmicks, games and novelties.
Two years later, Shire opened La Luz de Jesus Gallery upstairs from his flagship store. One of the most important, ground-breaking galleries in Los Angeles, La Luz de Jesus quickly garnered a considerable reputation with collectors, galleries, and artists around the world; and it gave birth to a genre of California art that would come to be known as Lowbrow. The celebrity clientele and legendary parties, coupled with Billy’s keen eye for talent, earned him the nickname “the Peggy Guggenheim of Lowbrow.” Wacko, Hollywood Blvd., present
In 1995 Billy Shire moved his entire empire back to the neighborhood where it all began. The new (and current) location boasts over 6,500 square feet of retail space in a 10,000 square foot building, with a private back lot that hosts what Details Magazine calls “the best party in town.” La Luz de Jesus Gallery’s art openings on the first Friday of each month. (To locals, it’s simply known as “doing First Friday at La Luz”.)
Interior, Wacko Melrose, 1980s.
So take a look around–we dare you!
Wacko / Soap Plant
La Luz de Jesus Gallery
4633 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90027
Open 7 Days a Week
“Celebrating Over 40 Years of Infamy”