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Vintage Photos of the Garden of Allah Hotel part one

Garden of Allah Photos 

8152 Sunset Boulevard, early 1900s: The mansion, then owned by real estate baron W.H. Hay, had forty rooms, with floors of teak, and richly carved decorations in rosewood and pale mahogany. In 1918, he leased the estate to famed Russian silent screen actress Madame Alla Nazimova, who named it The Garden of Alla. Beguiling movie audiences with her emotive performances in movies like Salome and Blood and Sand, the dark beauty was one of the highest-paid film stars of the era. She paid $50,000 for a 90-year lease on the three-and-a-half acres when Hollywood was still a small town with undeveloped tracts and plenty of dirt roads. Nazimova immediately commissioned a state-of-the-art swimming pool shaped like the Black Sea—then the biggest pool in Hollywood, and, of course, a nod to her native Yalta.

Alla Nazimova

Though nominally married, Nazimova was one of a small subculture of Hollywood actresses who were, in fact, lesbian or bisexual. (It was allegedly Nazimova who coined the phrase “Sewing circles” as code to refer to lesbian or bisexual actresses of her day who concealed their true sexuality.) Public meetings for high profile sexual minorities involved risk, and her home became a focal point for “Lavender Hollywood.” The female gatherings around the pool were not only the stuff of whispered legend but they were also important social conduits for work.

Changing economic fortunes forced Nazimova to sell the property in the mid-20s. The new owners turned the house into a grand, two-story Spanish-Moorish hotel, renaming it The Garden of Allah. The newly christened Garden of Allah opened on January 9, 1927, with all the flourish of a movie premiere: Marlene Dietrich, John Barrymore, Francis X. Bushman and Jack Dempsey were among the notables who attended. Greeters in swallowtail coats and striped pants ushered thousands of unabashed gawkers through the rooms and bungalows, while a string quartet played in the lobby of the main building and a platoon of Japanese butlers served tea, punch, and sandwiches. When darkness fell, visitors gasped with wonder as colored lights lit up the grounds, and strolling troubadours in Spanish costumes sang and played beneath the night-blooming jasmine. The theatricality of the opening suggested the make-believe world of the movies, and it was assumed by most visitors— and reported by the newspapers the next day—that the new establishment would appeal most to movie makers.

The Hotel Opens

The beautifully printed brochure that was sent to the movie studios read: “CALIFORNIA’S FINEST SUMMER HOTEL IN HOLLYWOOD: In the Garden of Allah there are 30 individual bungalows, exquisitely furnished, and offering you a delightful home, with complete hotel service. A magnificent swimming pool, surrounded by a semi-tropical paradise, transforms your bungalow into a delightful beach home in the center of Hollywood. In this alluring atmosphere of the tropics, you may “dine under the stars.” Just the place for that breakfast by the pool, bridge at lunch and a dinner party. You will appreciate the atmosphere of exclusive refinement in this garden of wonderful homes. It is truly a gem of comfort in a setting of romance.”

And rubbernecking tourists in buses that took them to see the homes of the stars were sure to have it pointed out to them. After gazing at the houses of the likes of Mary Pickford, John Gilbert, and Greta Garbo, they would roll past the restaurants and shops on the Strip, and then the guide with the megaphone would announce, “To your right, folks, the famous hotel, the Garden of Allah. Probably more luminaries living there right now than in all the rest of Hollywood put together.” Through the window of the moving bus they got a fleeting glimpse of something sprawled out in a hollow below street level—redtiled roofs smothered in tropical growth; a pink neon sign glaring in daylight among palm and pepper trees, sometimes with some of its letters failing to light up so that it announced THE DEN OF ALLAH.

The largest collection of Garden of Allah Hotel and Hollywood photos is on the website.


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