As you might have guessed, the Garden of Allah had no ties with the religion of Islam, but rather to one of Hollywood’s first movie stars, Russian silent film actress, Alla Nazimova. She acquired the 2.5 acre property in West Hollywood in 1919 as her private residence, but as the popularity of silent films began to wane with the introduction of talking pictures, she was advised to convert the property into a residential hotel and spared no expense in adding 25 Spanish style villas around the original house and a swimming pool in the shape of the Black Sea. She jokingly called her new venture “The Garden of Alla”, (the ‘h’ would come later) in reference to the best-selling 1905 novel, which inspired three Hollywood movies of the same name, one of which even starred hotel resident, Marlene Dietrich.
But Nazimova didn’t cut it as a hotel manager and within a year of running the place, found herself in financial crisis and her career in tatters. She sold off her interest in the property to new owners, who normalized the spelling in the hotel’s name to “Garden of Allah”, and after a brief hiatus from Hollywood and a failed stint on Broadway, she became a tenant in her own hotel, renting Villa 24, where she lived until her death in 1945.
This was before the days of the Beverly Hills mansions and luxurious neighbourhoods that Hollywood stars would later call home. Many actors tended only to come into town during production of the films they were working on, and The Garden of Allah provided that short or long-term escape from reality for those whose job it was to provide that escape for everyone else.
Some stayed in between films, some stayed in between marriages– like Humphrey Bogart, who was once attacked with a kitchen knife in his Garden villa by his estranged wife, who had found him living there with Lauren Bacall. Fellow residents gathered around the house to watch the scene as Bacall escaped out the back door.
The Garden of Allah being the last place you would deem suitable for a writer to stay sober and create a disciplined life, also became one of the final homesteads of F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937. His friend Thomas Wolfe wrote to him, “I’ll be damned if I’ll believe anyone lives in a place called the Garden of Allah”. While carrying on a relationship with his biographer and lover Sheilah Graham (who would also write a book about the hotel, The Garden of Allah), Scott did actually manage to accomplish some of his last literary achievements there.
It’s also believed to be the last place Scott ever met Ernest Hemingway, another resident of the Garden during his little-known stint in Los Angeles trying to promote his documentary on the Spanish Civil War. Of their last meetings, Fitzgerald said: “I talk with the authority of failure–Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the table again.”
Despite the debauchery and the scandal, the Garden was also an unlikely creative haven, confirmed by the long list of iconic names who chose to stay there. Orson Welles, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers and Laurence Olivier– it’s easier to say who didn’t check in at the Garden rather than who did.
Newer stars in Hollywood like James Dean and Montgomery Clift were choosing to stay at the nearby Chateau Marmont instead. As the City of Los Angeles was expanding, soon enough, the real estate the Garden was built on became more valuable as commercial property than the hotel itself.
Tourist postcard of Alla Nazimova's mansion
which would become the notorious Garden of Alla
Be sure to see the other offerings of the participants in Beverly's Pink Saturday blog hop!
Now go make something beautiful!
(¸.•´ (¸.•´? Tristan
(¸.•´ (¸.•´? Tristan
Click on the above image to read a roster of
the Hollywood royalty and elite who were
guests and residents at The Garden of Allah
Aerial photo showing The Garden of Allah main mansion and
various surrounding 'villas' and bungalows
known not only for the lascivious behavior there,
but for being the largest swimming pool in Hollywood at the time.