Where's prom? Hollywood clubs, studio lots, museums and definitely not the gym

In the mid-2010s, celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian, Rihanna and Floyd Mayweather Jr. socialized at Lure Nightclub in Hollywood, drawing TMZ photographers and star-obsessed onlookers to the venue’s curb. Inside , the now-shuttered hot spot offered a menu brimming with expensive drinks, such as a $70,000 Champagne bottle.

But on a spring night in 2014, a vastly different clientele descended upon the rented-out, 18,000-square-foot venue: high schoolers.

“Sometimes I drive past it and I'm just like, ‘Oh, my God, my prom was there,’” said Tiffany Behnam, a Milken Community School alum, of the scene-y club.

In Los Angeles, where the yearly price of tuition can rival the cost of a new convertible, some private schools go all out when booking venues for the spring bash. While public schools sometimes splurge on prom venues too — in addition to hotel ballrooms and sprucing up their gymnasiums — some of the city’s most elite schools regularly opt for world-class museums, studio lots and nightclubs, giving teenagers an only-in-L.A. prom experience. Booking these event spaces — not including decor, DJ and other amenities — can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000. Prom ticket prices have ranged from around $115 to $175 over the years.

A prom king sits at the party while a couple takes a selfie and another person dances.
(Amir Mrzae / For The Times)

“I was like, ‘Of course our prom is going to be there,’ because Milken is quite a prestigious school and they always strive to give us the best,” Behnam recalled.

Immediately after the prom at Lure, Behnam and her classmates ventured to Bootsy Bellows, a velvet-roped club in West Hollywood, which Milken student organizers had booked for the Bel-Air school’s after-prom party. Bootsy Bellows is popular among celebrities like Drake, and, it turns out, some L.A. private school prom committees. Crossroads School, a Santa Monica prep school, held a prom at Bootsy Bellows a few years after the Milken event.

Read more: This Heav3n is a genreless, genderless party for the next generation of club kids

“It was a nightclub that no one had been to but kind of had heard lore about and people were curious about,” said Molly Cody, a Harvard-Westlake graduate whose friends attended the Crossroads prom. “People got to go inside a nightclub that they would typically never be eligible to go to.”

When Cody was a senior in 2017, her Coldwater Canyon high school held its prom at the Skirball Cultural Center. A popular prom destination for both private and public schools, the Jewish cultural institution also has been booked for weddings and galas. Cody said because her private school had nearly 300 students per class, it booked a large venue.

“It needed to be more convention center-y rather than nightclub,” she said.

In 2025, Harvard-Westlake plans to hold its prom at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Jasmine Gonzalez, the Petersen’s events director, said schools reserve dates nearly two years in advance.

Though some have a yearly tradition of holding prom at the Petersen, others book the space every other year to give students different locations for their junior and senior proms. The venue’s popularity among L.A. schools has meant big business for the museum. “We host anywhere between 15 and 20 proms a year,” Gonzalez said, adding that it can cost up to $35,000 to rent space at the museum. In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum didn’t host any proms. The next year, it hosted a handful, including Harvard-Westlake’s, which took place outdoors. By 2022, Gonzalez said, the prom business at the museum had returned to normal levels.

With thousands of students piling into the Petersen in sparkly outfits in April and May, springtime visitors sometimes notice remnants from prom events while trekking through the museum. “When you go into our elevators, you'll see some sparkles and that's because of the dresses,” Gonzalez said, noting that the space now requests decor and dresses sans glitter.

Read more: 11 free museum days in L.A. that you'll want to plan your whole month around

Maddy Glick, a Brentwood School graduate who attended her junior prom at the Petersen in 2018, said the festivities were surrounded by “beautiful cars.”

“It was just a really cool space,” she added. The Petersen's vast collection includes classic rides like a copper-colored 1959 Chevrolet Impala lowrider and a black-coated 1932 Ford Roadster.

Besides Brentwood School and Harvard-Westlake, private schools like Campbell Hall in Studio City and Milken Community School also have booked proms at the Petersen.

It's not just private schools renting cultural institutions for prom. Some public schools host their festivities at the museum as well, Gonzalez said. But the smaller private ones may opt for a catered, sit-down dinner, adding at least $4,500 to the bill if they use Someone's in the Kitchen, one of the Petersen’s preferred catering vendors.

A prom queen centered over The Grammy Museum
(Amir Mrzae / For The Times)

At the Grammy Museum, groups using the space work with its exclusive catering partner, Wolfgang Puck Catering. (Both declined to share prom catering pricing.) This year, the all-girls Marlborough School in Hancock Park held its prom on the venue’s rooftop terrace, which has views of the iconic Hollywood sign and rents for at least $10,000. Rita George, the museum’s chief program officer, said schools have increasingly turned to the museum for prom.

“We definitely do more now than ever, and the first one was probably a good 10 years ago,” she said. “I think it offers a more elevated experience, maybe, when it's at a museum.”

George said schools also can reserve the museum’s exhibits, such as its Shakira showcase, giving students the chance to roam different floors during their event.

Prom planners sometimes pick production studios for the rite of passage. Last year, Chaminade College Preparatory, the Catholic private school in West Hills, held its prom on a soundstage at the Jim Henson Co. Lot in Hollywood, where shows like “Perry Mason” and “Adventures of Superman” were filmed. The company didn’t respond to requests for current pricing, but a 2015 flier showed that renting its soundstage and courtyard cost between $8,000 and $13,000 at the time.

Read more: 11 invigorating solo date ideas to craft a lovely L.A. day

For a change of pace, Brentwood School, whose alumni include actor Jonah Hill and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, hosted its senior prom in 2019 at a nondescript, indoor-outdoor space in Hollywood. But student planners added accouterments like a wood-fired pizza oven and a taco station.

For these students, their prom location mattered less than enjoying the revelry. Glick, who planned the event with four other students, said the organizers toured many locales and ended up choosing a “less fancy” space in order to spend more money on the event itself.

“Prom was really fun. People had a really good time,” she said. “Or at least they told me they had a really good time because I planned it.”

Sign up for our L.A. Times Plants newsletter
At the start of each month, get a roundup of upcoming plant-related activities and events in Southern California, along with links to tips and articles you may have missed.
Sign me up.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.