The Story behind Los Angeles’ most beloved Porn Store

“Book Circus and Universal News on Las Palmas and Hollywood Boulevard each took 600 copies of the gay Blueboy magazine when it first came out,” said Mr Mason. “I would load my truck for these two stops. Guys would be waiting for us at the door. They’d come out and help me bring them in. They’d rip open the box and buy them fresh out of the box. I wouldn’t even be done unloading them and they were already sold. Blueboy was the first mainstream gay magazine. The guys loved it.”

Then the owner of Book Circus stopped paying his bills and his rent. Mr Mason learned from the manager of the store that the owner was deep in his coke addiction, was stiffing everybody and had Mafia debts. Mason spoke to the manager of the building who informed him that the owner was about to be evicted.  “The next day I got what I thought was a brilliant idea,” Barry Mason explained. “I called the building manager back and I told her, “If I give you half of his rent until you evict him, will you sign over the lease to me for the same deal you’re giving him? She said ok. So I paid half of his rent for two months and then one day she told me he was out and she gave me keys to the store.” The owner of Book Circus filed for bankruptcy and the courts tried to come for the Masons’ assets. So Book Circus became Circus of Books.

The business grew steadily throughout the 1980s. Then the Masons got swept up in a federal effort to shut down L.A.’s adult video distributors by targeting them in less liberal parts of the country.
Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, appointed in 1988 by then-President Ronald Reagan, spearheaded the effort, using the U.S. Postal Service to intercept packages from adult distributors. In 1990, a trio of California producers and distributors were indicted on charges of interstate transportation of obscene material after getting caught shipping VHS tapes.
But their lawyer, John Weston, who in 1990 described the federal prosecutions to the LA Times as  “a national censorial stranglehold on the citizens of America,” told the Masons to fight.
The U.S. government, Weston knew, did not want to lose their tax dollars. He defended the freedoms of adult industries in front of the Supreme Court multiple times in his career; some cases were more successful than others.
Barry Mason Enterprises Inc. vs. the USA took two years to battle in court. In the end, neither of the Masons served any time. Instead, Barry agreed to a pre-trial diversion—essentially probation without a conviction—and the charges were dropped.
The world-famous adult bookstore has mostly been a source of nostalgia in recent years for many gay men who swung past the saloon doors in search of erotic movies, sex toys, lube, poppers or glass pipes throughout the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and 90’s when the store’s popularity was at its peak. It attracted straight porn lovers and many famous faces.
In 2020 the store was taken over by C1R, already operating Chi Chi LaRue in WeHo West. The store was reimagined  60 years later as a new Circus of Books.  Circus has a high-end boutique atmosphere, getting away from the seedy hook-up style of yesterday’s porn shop.

The new store also features Gallery @ Circus which highlights LGBTQ artists for art that might be a bit racy still for most galleries.
Among the artists exhibited in the gallery is Liviu Bulea senior editor of Gay45 magazine.
Check out the documentary Circus of Books on Netflix!

The text was first published on: www.circusofbooks.com

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