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
March 6, 1927
Not every L.A. woman has the chance to be wooed by royalty, but Mrs. Edith Brown of 4720 ½ Mascot Street proved singularly unimpressed by the stream of letters emanating from the pen of Lionel I, self-proclaimed King of America. The lady, apparently a democrat, called the cops. They took His Majesty (otherwise known as Lionel Craviato) before the judge, who sent the regal fellow off to City Jail to learn that even a king should not annoy a lady.
An excerpt from one of the offending missives read: "All the American army and navy love me and they recognize me as their first chief and want me to be king of their country. I will conquer and civilize the whole world!"
Hmm, maybe the problem was that this would-be king never learned how to write a proper love letter. Lionel, Lionel, Lionel, no woman wants to read about how much the army loves you! Also, for future reference, we like rubies.
February 3, 1927
It was another olla podrida fulla banditry in Los Angeles, which bubbled over and burned something fierce at El Molino and Ninth when a gent approached Frank Merlo, robbed him of $50 ($551 USD2006) cash and forced him to swap clothing.
Elsewhere, a truck containing $4,000 worth of cigars and tobacco, parked in front of the Glaser Brother’s establishment at 1028 Wall Street, just up and disappeared; a burglar capable of squeezing through a window not more than seven inches wide entered the Wrede Drug Company at 1327 Fairfax and made off with $200; persons unknown jimmied a rear door of Brunswig Drug at 4922 Santa Monica and btained $500 worth of cigarettes and delicious narcotics.
In residential news, Mrs. Elba Burdick was lightened of $1,000 worth of clothing, rugs and pesky jewelry that were cluttering up her place at 232 Carmelina Avenue; Nathan Lack now lacks one $600 diamond stickpin, formerly in residence at 831 South Harvard; Torato Nishlo was relieved of $500 in jewelry from 925 Hemlock; Dr. H. C. Hill of 806 Golden, also relieved of $500 in jewelry; Nathan Berger, of 2010 Brooklyn Avenue, also relieved of $500 in jewelry; and loot valued at less than $300 was pilfered from a dozen other residences, according to police reports.
Daylight is a good time to work as well—Sam Stone got his register rifled while looking the other way, Stone Furniture Company, 2711 Brooklyn Avenue.
But fret not people of Los Angeles! The bulls have pinched (another) gang of li’luns, ages 15 to 18, who now make the Alhambra pokey their new clubhouse. Their leader was busting into the home of an F. R. Lee on North Wilson when popped, and quickly gave up his younger cohorts—they of reputable local families—and location of purloined rugs, cameras, revolvers, and the black masks (cute—last year) they wore during their heists. The youth of these masked marauders may account for the ability to slip through Wrede Drug's tiny window. Unless it was those fabled fascistic interwar little people.
January 17, 1927
When the doc refused to keep things quiet after treating oilman Grover Lawler's (happily superficial) bullet wounds at his home in the Dickerson apartments at Berendo and Beverly, Lawler told visiting cops that he'd shot himself. No, he would not produce the weapon. Damn, won't you flatfoots let a guy recuperate in peace?
Not so fast, Grover. You wouldn't know anything about reports that a hysterical blond woman armed with a .38 had fired wildly at a car bearing two men and a woman tonight, just six blocks from your place, at the Grauman Court apartments at 4428 Melrose? No? Because G.A. Hessman, resident, has described the incident thoroughly, and turned over the gun that the woman threw into the grass at his feet when she was finished.
Grover reconsidered, and admitted some dizzy dame had shot at him as his party left a dinner engagement at the Melrose address, but refused the identify his assailant. Perhaps recognizing that Mrs. Lawler, now playing nurse, would provide better punishment than the law allowed, the officers went on their way.
December 14, 1927
The holiday is nearly upon us, and all across the city, citizens are Christmas mad. The Pacific Electric Hollywood car stalled, halfway through the First Street tunnel, and when the wire fell down and sent sparks arcing across the darkened windows, scads of package-laden shoppers panicked and stampeded, despite attempts by train staff to calm them. Several passengers suffered bruised knees, ankles and backs.
There's naught but sadness at 4528 Amber Place, where the John Vernon Rosses mourn the death of their only child, John Vernon, Jr., aged 4. Mother was working days and father nights in downtown shops, to save enough to give the tyke his best Christmas ever, while a neighbor, Mrs. J.W. Loyal of 4600 Topaz Street watched the babe. When mother called for him around 1pm, he was dead in his cot, victim of some mysterious internal hemorrhage. An autopsy was ordered, but if any cause of death was found, it was never reported in the papers.
And down on Wilton Place, the Parker Twins, Marion and Marjorie, whisper together about what to give their father Perry for his birthday tomorrow. They cannot know that tomorrow Marion will be kidnapped from her school by The Fox, and that despite the ransom Perry pays, she will never come home again.
December 11, 1927
The death of motion-picture actor George Donald Bailey was announced this morning. The 63-year-old thespian complained of feeling ill yesterday. A doctor was summoned, but Bailey died within a few hours. The death certificate, signed by Dr. C.D. Baker (a friend of the deceased), stated the cause as heart disease.
The matter would seem to rest there, but this afternoon Bailey's widow was visited by her daughter, Blanche Olivarias, and Blanche's sister-in-law, Miss Tommy Olivarias. The women brewed a soothing pot of coffee, sipped from their cups, and immediately were gripped by nausea. Tommy, in particular, became violently sick and felt a choking sensation in her throat.
Unusual, you think, but this is where the plot thickens: "'My husband clutched at his throat just prior to his death,' Mrs. Bailey said. 'He kept mumbling he was being choked to death'"—just after having a cup of coffee from the same fatal pot. Indeed, doctors say the only reason Tommy recovered was emergency treatment.
The county coroner requested a chemical analysis of Bailey's organs. The coffee pot and whatever liquid remained in it were turned over to the county chemist. Results were expected sometime the following week.
Did heart disease kill George D. Bailey—or was it poison? Were his widow, daughter, and her sister-in-law victims of the same toxin? Alas, the Times never reported on the outcome of the autopsy or tests on the coffee pot.
December 6, 1927
Calling all cars! Calling all cars! Be on the lookout for two easily-recognized scofflaws, film stars Reginald Denny and Hedda Hopper. She's wanted for speeding at about 34mph around Melrose and La Brea, he for setting a similar pace in the 20mph zone at Sunset and Vine, and without a valid operator's license, on November 28.
But that's not all! Denny is also wanted for questioning in the origins of the massive forest fire which began near his cabin near Running Springs Park in the San Bernardino Mountains two nights ago, and which hundreds of men are fighting, with 50 to 75 summer cabins already destroyed.
What shall we do with these antisocial celebrities? Perhaps we should just drop by their homes and have a talk with them. Miss Hopper is reported as residing at 1416 Fairfax Avenue, Mr. Denny at 2060 North Vine.
December 2, 1927
Mrs. Margaret Pumphrey, 27, of the Milner Road Pumphreys, was standing in her bedroom of her hillside home, preparing to go downtown, when she was approached by her white-jacketed butler. He asked if there were any further orders. Mrs. Pumphrey said there were none.
With that, her servant—Richard R. Ewell, 30—developed an “insane gleam” in his eye and approached further…whereupon Mrs. Pumphrey noticed the .45 automatic in his hand.
The chase—and fusillade of shots—began! Mrs. Pumphey fled through a bathroom and into an adjoining bedroom, through a hallway and down the stairs, but there’s no running from the staff. They know the house better than you do.
The mad pursuit and firearm blasts continued from room to room to room until Margaret managed to lock herself into a downstairs bedroom. Ewell fired several shots into the door to break the lock, but once he heard the window open, he ran around the house to catch her escaping. And catch her he did—as he climbed into the window, he shot her in the side as she ran screaming out the door.
The screams alarmed neighbor Mrs. Johnstone, who came running (with her two maids in tow [also suitably armed?]) and Ewell fired upon them from the home’s entryway—but Ewell, realizing that the alarm had been raised and his game discovered, put the barrel to his head and sent his brains all over the foyer he’d kept so spotless the three months he’d been under the Pumphrey’s employ.
Mrs. Margaret Pumphrey (could Kaufman & Ryskind have scripted a name of greater puffery?) suffered more from shock and fright (as visions of FLW’s former servant surely flashed through her head) than from her injury; she was rushed to Hollywood Receiving and was treated for the superficial wound and released.
According to LeRoy Bird, with whom Ewell lived at 4307 Hooper Avenue, Philadelphia native Ewell was an industrious man of good character and habits and never had any previous trouble. Detective Lieutenant Mahoney contends that Ewell had probably been crazed by dope, especially as he’d been out the night before and had acted strangely in the morning.
Ewell leaves a widow, Inez Ewell, in Kansas City. Because his death was self-inflicted, there was no inquest over the body. A small notebook was later found in Ewell’s possessions, and it was greatly hoped by Captain of Detectives Slaughter to contain names of prominent Hollywood people and information about dope trafficking; but sadly for Slaughter, “the only names in the book, the officer declares, are those of negresses and it is devoid of anything referring to narcotics or trade in the drugs.”
So why did Richard Ewell snap? If only we had some sign.
A brief history of the Angelino man known as the Poet Laureate of Skid Row, who pulled poetry out from beneath itself in the 20th century. We’ll take a look at his life as partially told by the Esotouric bus tour, rolling through the neighborhoods in which he lived and created his greatest works, stopping by a bar or two in which he drank. Have a seat and bring a beer.
November 8, 1927
Oddities around town:
World class crumb-bum Joseph Peck returned from a trip to Fort Worth only to discover he was to be made an example by the City Council, seeking to alleviate the costs associated with relief payments provided to mothers whose husbands refused to support their families. Blanche Peck, 42, of 2939 West Avenue 37, has been raising five children, ages 1 to 11, without any help from Joseph since December 1925. Now she'll be guaranteed $2 a day for a year. That's Papa Joe's pay for pounding on L.A.'s new rock pile.
In Griffith Park, camera operator Clifford Shirpser was shooting an exploding airplane for a new William Wellman picture when he stumbled over a stone and went ass over teakettle. The heavy camera went up, then brained the fallen technician. He came to after fifteen minutes. (Shirpser was likely shooting additional footage for Wings, which had debuted in New York in August, but which did not receive its Los Angeles premiere until January 1928.)
And wee, noisy Ill Ill the "untamed, tree-climbing pygmy" barker, recently arrested in front of the Dreamland Palace at 539 South Main Street, copped a guilty plea for violating the city's anti-ballyhoo ordinance on two occasions, and paid $100 in fines, thus avoiding a tree-free stint in the Lincoln Heights callaboose.
October 15, 1927
Sheiks and Shebas…the Kinkajou and the Charleston are dead! Long live the Rooster Flap! The newest dance craze to take Hollywood by storm debuted at a dinner dance hosted by actress Molly O’Day. A rustic cousin of the Black Bottom, the Rooster Flap is danced to a tune reminiscent of “Turkey in the Straw”. Following a lively dance lesson, O’Day’s tinseltown friends were ready to greet the dawn with a cock-a-doodle-doo and a shimmy and a shake.
See YOU on the dance floor!
September 28, 1927
This is what we know: B.F. Boyd, of 1273 North Kingsley, is blind. He had a dog called Duke, and Duke's been gone three months or more. Mr. Boyd believes his neighbor Mrs. Ada Blomquist snatched Duke, because when walking past her house he heard a whine he thought he recognized.
Unable to locate the animal along the property line, Boyd returned with his son Paul and knocked on the door, whereupon the Blomquist's Belgian police dog "Max" knocked him down. But was it from love or blood thirst?
That's for the court to decide, and by this afternoon, 18 people had taken the stand. Mr. Boyd seemed to sincerely believe Duke had been found, but two weeks later Mrs. Blomquist would be freed after testimony from a breeder that he'd sold her the dog when it was six months old. Boyd's dog had been young, too, but that worked against him--the judge doubted he could possibly recognize his puppy's bark when issued through an adult dog's larynx.
As for Mrs. Blomquist, she got her dog back, but it cost her dearly. We don't know what they were feeding dogs in the city kennel in 1927 save that there must have been plenty of it. The bill was $40, payable before Max could be returned to his mistress. Or perhaps that was a last bit of Solomonic trickery from Judge McConnell. In any case, she wrote the check.
September 3, 1927
If you’re planning to escape the heat this Labor Day by going boating on Lake Arrowhead, don’t forget to take along your radio!
August 27, 1927
Future dwellers, don’t think we can’t see you smirking. This computational device works both ways you know. Drag your minds out of the gutter and we’ll tell you a cute story about a girl and her…cat.
Lydia Dixon is a stage actress from New York with an unusual reason for coming to Hollywood – her 18 year old Persian cat. The elderly white fluff ball was finding Gotham City winters too harsh, so when Lydia wrapped up a show on Broadway she made arrangements to vacation in Southern California with her favorite feline.
Lydia hadn’t considered working here but after spending a short time enjoying our glorious climate she was delighted when she was asked to play a role in the stage comedy, “The Wild Westcotts”. She accepted the part and can currently be seen on stage at the Vine Street Theater.
Lydia has said that she sometimes gets homesick for New York, but until her cat breathes its last she plans to stay right here in Tinseltown.
See, we told you it was a cute story. Shame on you!
August 23, 1927
The news of the day is not especially happy. Film director Josef Von Sternberg's marriage to assistant director/actress Riza Royce has ended after a year following an disagreement over Miss Royce's determination to have a nose job. Miss Royce had her nose straightened and collected cash and a car, while Mr. Von Sternberg kept their home at 6252 Drexel.
The first anniversary of the death of screen sheik Rudolph Valentino was occasion for a Catholic mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament attended by family and a few friends and fans, in stark contrast to the mob scenes that accompanied his burial. Following the service, the worshippers visited Valentino's crypt in the Hollywood Mausoleum and strewed flowers around the aisles.
And down at a flophouse at 1104 South Main Street, after a day's posting, the sign on a door warning the residents not to disturb the baby became an object of curiosity, and the door was opened. Inside, a tiny redheaded boy babe of perhaps 14 months, quite dead, with cotton stuffed in his mouth and nostrils, a bloody nightgown and signs of strangulation on the child's neck. Police have taken fingerprints from the room and handwriting samples from the note and hotel register, and are searching for a Mrs. W. Howard of Los Angeles. The nameless infant now rests in the County Morgue.