Hollywood in its Golden Age was filled with beautiful, glamorous apartments, residence hotels and bungalow courts, quite a few of which have survived the harsh winds of time, neglect, temblors and the questionable taste of subsequent owners.
But the site of that most storied of all the Hollywood residences, the legendary Garden of Allah (8152 Sunset Boulevard), is today a bland mini-mall anchored by a McDonald's restaurant in the post-modern style. Popular myth has it that it was demolition of the Garden of Allah and its beautiful pool and fountains, mature gardens, handsome villas and culture of creativity that inspired Joni Mitchell to write "Big Yellow Taxi" -- "they paved paradise, put up a parking lot." If that isn't true, it ought to be.
Photo: Los Angeles Public Library
The Garden of Allah fell to the wrecker in summer 1959. But on April 9, 1940, when the census enumerator dropped by to take the hotel's temperature, it was at its height as an urbane social center, the only place suitable for a certain class of extraordinary person to make their Hollywood home.
The census record is illuminating and more than a little heartbreaking as a suggestive portrait of a vanished time. The first resident recorded is practically a novel in a single line:
Lerner, Herbert A. White, single, Louisiana-born, 29. His residence on April 1, 1935? " At sea. Near Florida" Occupation? "First mate, private yacht." Annual wages $1200.
This is the type of fascinating stranger one might make a friend of at the famous bar at the Garden of Allah. No wonder writers loved the place.
And yes, there are famous writers living at the Garden of Allah in the spring of 1940, and we'll get to them, but just look at the variety of elevated humanity that was drawn to this seductive corner of the world.
A stock broker. A public utilities executive. A couple guys in advertising. Varied and sundry magazine hacks. A night club publicity manager. An actors' agent. Alonzo F. Farrow and wife Edna, who run the joint ($3600/year for him). British film producer John Stafford. The beautiful Greta Nissen, a silent star that fell from favor, though not entirely, due to her strong Norwegian accent. Populist historian and pulp writer Harold Lamb, who must have been a hoot over a cup of grog. Irish novelist Liam O'Flaherty, slumming with film work. Edwin Justus Mayer, who wrote To Be or Not To Be.
And mostly clustered together near the bottom of the page, those grand Algonquin wits. George S. Kaufman, theatrical writer, 50, who declined to state his income. Robert C. Benchley, motion picture writer, $5000+ per annum. Alan Campbell and wife Dorothy P., for Parker, both movie writers, both earning what friend Benchley brings home. This was where the hard work got done, and steam was let off, before the cycle began again. What nights they must have had, and what days, beneath the ridiculous California sun, surrounded by geniuses and nincompoops, the lovely and the lost.
Once upon a time in Hollywood, this place was real, not imagined. Now it's just real estate, a ring of shaggy palm trees around an asphalt lot. Pull in some time, park in the center, close your eyes and just breathe the air that once fed paradise. That grand moment has passed, and this moment can be rude and trying. But a more beautiful world is coming. It was ever thus.
Photo: Los Angeles Public Library
Join us, gentle reader, this Sunday March 18, at the glamorous and seldom open Los Angeles Theater (1931) in the heart of downtown for the Saving LA preservation event. There will be speakers in the main hall and tables hosting representatives from local publishers and historical organizations, including 1947project. Stop by to see one of the most beautiful theaters in the city and to connect with others who care about preserving signs of the past. Linger to hear my visionary husband Richard Schave speak in the 3 o'clock hour about the vast possibilities for community building that can be accessed using free web tools.
Event details: Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, 10am-4pm, free.
More info and a full schedule are at the Saving LA blog, http://savingla.blogspot.com/
The Times real estate section takes a look at what was then the distant suburb of Monrovia, 22 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The writer notes the increasing use of concrete and stone, explaining that the cost of lumber is forcing builders to use other materials. The writer also notes the broad, shaded verandas of three featured homes as well as the outlines of their roofs.
The story highlights the home of B.R. Davisson on East Orange Avenue, H.M. Slemmons (or Slemon) on North Myrtle Avenue and the home of John C. Rupp at Ivy and Greystone, built for $6,500 ($133,403.21 USD 2005).
Without exact addresses, it would be difficult for me to locate the Davisson and Slemmons homes, but I took a pleasant drive out to Monrovia recently to look for the Rupp house and was happy to find
that it is still standing and in beautiful condition. In fact, it was nice to discover that the neighborhood has quite a few well-maintained historic homes; a contrast to the condition of the houses I located in Pico Heights.
I had a brief chat with the homeowner who gave me a tour of the grounds. He said that Rupp, a financier, built the home for his wife, but that she decided it was too far from Los Angeles and wouldn
The Southern California Restaurant Historical Society is holding a "Brown Derby Tribute", with speakers Jack Lane, Master caricaturist from the Hollywood Brown Derby, Mark Willems, author, "The Brown Derby: A Hollywood Legend" and Rebecca Goodman, of Save the Derby Coalition. It will be held at the former Brown Derby Drive In Building, now "The Derby" and Louise's Trattoria, at 4500 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles on August 19 10am-Noon. Official flyer below
and in more preservation news (we hope!), see Michael Linder's brave attempts to unravel the haps at Columbia Square. Will the Old Spaghetti Factory survive? Sommmmmebody knows...
Two juicy links courtesy of good ol' LA Observed:
As work continues on that ginormous construction site near Sunset and Grand, a 19th century cemetery is being disturbed, with caskets, bones and artifacts shining grimly in the sunlight they were never meant to see. Nothing good can possibly come from this.
And in happier news, the Echo Park Historical Society is looking for a once-wood, now-stucco'd home to serve as a demonstration for how the creeping crud can be stripped off and the home's original lines renewed.
Addendum, from wee Nathan:
Arrow points to bones of pioneer California soldier unearthed as Hollywood Freeway excavation cuts into the old Fort Moore Hill Cemetery. Soldier had been buried in full uniform, including silver spurs. Several caskets have been exposed. Photo dated: April 2, 1951.
The Hamburger Department Store announces plans for a theater just south of its new building on South Broadway at 8th Street, designed by the architecture firm of Edelman and Barnett. According to plans, the horseshoe-shaped theater is to seat 1,600 people, with a balcony and a gallery. The stage is to be 40 feet by 80 feet, with a proscenium 36 feet wide and 32 feet high.