The Garden of Allah in the 1940 census

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. 00058512 Garden of Allah LAPL

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.

garden of allah 1940 herbert lerner

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.

garden of allah 1940 census benchley campbell parker

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.

00011968 Garden of Allah LAPL

Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

Twin Celebrations


Feb.13, 1907
Los Angeles

An enormous masked ball for the city’s elite was staged on Mardi Gras at Kramer’s Studio and Dancing Academy, 1500 S. Figueroa.

Kramer’s Hall, as it was informally known.

The Times, in a rare bylined article—by Katherine Thompson—gives
an exhaustive account of decorations and costumes. Rather than list all the women’s outfits, I’ll only comment on them: Spanish senoritas, flower girls, cowboys and a couple of ladies dressed as Chinese girls, which seems a peculiar choice given the attitude toward the Chinese in Los Angeles at the time.

One woman dressed as “My Lady Nicotineâ€Â her gown decorated with what The Times estimated, perhaps in exaggeration, as a thousand cigar bands. Several others were dressed as “Night.â€Â

Costumes for the men included cowboys or vaqueros, a Spanish grandee, a French pastry cook and a cardinal.

The other celebration underway was the first anniversary of the Hotel Alexandria, which marked the occasion with a massive fireworks display.

“At 8 o’clock last night, several thousand dollars worth of fireworks were set off from the roof of the Alexandria,â€Â The Times says. “One particularly attractive piece pictured the great lobby of the building. During the evening a Hungarian quartette furnished music.â€Â

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Downtown Demolitions

September 8, 1907
Los Angeles
twohotels
ordersdownMuch has been made of Bunker Hill, its rooming houses torn asunder, and of the wholesale postwar demolition of many a downtown landmark.  Downtown hotels have fared the worst, though they limped along longest—the Lee, the Lankershim, the Gates, the Armondale, all held forth before being felled in recent memory.  As much as we must blush at this collective ignominy, let us turn an eye back to some of our fallen comrades that predate, or were otherwise too shabby to be considered amongst, the brick and metal structures of our Gilded Age.

On this day in 1907 Fire Chief Lips, Health Officer Powers, Building Inspector Backus, with Mayor Harper at the helm, visited four downtown lodging houses and found the living conditions in them so deplorable that orders were issued for their immediate demolition.  This action was largely at the behest of those tireless proponents of the “City Beautiful” movement, the Municipal Art Commission.

Like sleuths on the trail of flimsy firetraps unfit for human habitation (or, more likely, menaces to the business district), the Mayor and his posse struck first at the Saratoga, at 218-230 East Third Street.  The Mayor, having never seen the common bedbug once in his life, was horrified at the sight of the Cimex lectularius.  Harper had Building Inspector Backus draw up a letter to the building’s owner, one J. J. Pattison of Hollywood:  “…I have reached the conclusion that it is my duty under Sec. 7 of the Los Angeles Building Ordinance to condemn…on account of its exceedingly flimsy character—the construction being mainly boards and the ceiling consisting of cloth and paper.  The class of construction is, in my opinion, a very serious menace to the thickly built-up section surrounding the property.  You will therefore demolish the building at once and remove all the old material from the premises.  The section referred to requires that you begin this work within forty-eight hours of the receipt of this notice.”

Similar notices were sent to the owners of the Mechanics Lodging house at 232 East Second, the New England lodging house at 245 East Second, and the Nagaska Hotel on 2321/2 East Second.  The Saratoga, Mechanics Lodging and New England were immediately vacated, their roomers dispersed who knows where; however, regarding the Nagaska, "the Japs have disregarded their notice and are still packed in there like sardines in a can.  If they have not cleared out by Monday they may be transferred to the Police Station.”

While he was at it, Inspector Backus condemned the aged Pioneer Warehouse at 421 Bernardo, whose foundations have settled and whose brick walls are warped and cracked.  Fire Chief Lips also pronounced an unnamed hotel on Spring, south of the Alexandria, to be an unsanitary firetrap.

It is said twenty other buildings within the business district have failed to meet the approval of the fire chief and building inspector.  Their fate is of yet unknown.

This take-and-demolish method may be bad, but at least it’s more honorable than our modern methods practiced by that deceitful cabal of disingenuous philistines known as the LAUSD.

A Ghostly Visitor

As I began to write my grand opening about Los Angeles in 1907, I felt a ghostly hand pluck ever so gently at my sleeve.
“Promise me, dear boy, you’ll remember to say that women couldn’t vote in 1907.”
“Yes, of course.”
Now where was I? Ah yes. The street names are deceptively familiar: Broadway, Spring Street and Main. But stand up on Bunker Hill and look at the city below and you might pick out the Bradbury Building and the Alexandria Hotel. Maybe the Pan American building at Broadway and 3rd Street, kitty-corner from the Bradbury and currently undergoing loft conversion, and the Rosslyn Hotel on Main.
Nothing remains of the old City Hall on Broadway but the parking lot between the Los Angeles Times garage and Victor Clothing, otherwise known as the Hosfield Building, erected as an annex for city offices in 1914 and opened in 1915 as City Hall South.
There are no freeways in this alien city. No television, no radio (or “wireless” as it was previously known) and no movie theaters. There aren’t even any comic strips in The Times, let alone crossword puzzles. Luckily, the operatic repertoire hasn’t changed greatly; Angelenos in 1907 could hear “Carmen” and “La Traviata.”
The ghostly hand intruded again, a bit more forcefully.
“Dear boy, remember about women not being able to vote?”
“I’ll get to that.”
There are a few automobiles (or “machines” as they were called) sold by dealers who set up shop on South Main around 12th Street. Reo, Rambler, Jackson, Pope-Toledo, Stevens-Duryea and Overland. Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Packard are the only familiar names. But machines seem only a bit more common than Segways are today. There are no more than 30 cars listed for sale in The Times classified ads for March 14, 1907, far outnumbered by horses; buggies and wagons, streetcars and bicycles appear to be the main modes of transportation.

Sample ad:
POPE-TOLEDO 24-H.P. TOURING CAR
with touring car body, canopy top and run-
about body. This car has just been thoroughly
overhauled and is in first-class condition.
The BIGGEST bargain offered in
Los Angeles
$1,000 ($20,523.57 USD 2005)
Western Motor Car Company
415 S. Hill
Patent medicine, séances, licensed saloons and something called a blind pig. The pages of The Times are brimming with vintage malfeasance.
“Ow! You don’t need to pinch me.”
“Dear boy, women’s suffrage?”
“Very well.”
Women in Los Angeles couldn’t vote until 1911, when a new law allowed them to cast ballots in the local elections. The 19th amendment, granting women’s suffrage, was ratified by California on Nov. 1, 1919, and proclaimed by the secretary of State on Aug. 26, 1920.  (Not passed by Mississippi until March 22, 1984? Are you serious?)
“I’ll even mention suffragette Rachel Foster Avery’s visit in August 1907. How’s that?”
“Thank you.”

Police Grill Pin Boy in Winters Whack

March 13, 1947 Los Angeles Detectives questioned James Joseph Tiernan Jr., 30, tonight about his movements Monday night, both before and after the time he claimed that Evelyn Winters, 42, left his hotel room at 912 W. Sixth Street. Winters turned up dead just after midnight Tuesday in the railyard at Ducommun Street, her clothes in disarray, with a blood alcohol level of .28, a nearly fatal proportion. According to Dr. Frederick Newbarr of the Coroner’s Office, cause of death was blows to the head, exacerbated by the extent of her drunkenness. Tiernan was arrested the next day at the bowling alley at 924 S. Olive Street where he was formerly employed.

Captain Jack Donahoe is following up on Tiernan’s story. Tiernan admits to knowing Winters–a former movie industry legal secretary fallen on hard times–for about two years. He says he met her on Sunday at the public library, then took her to his hotel room. They both liked reading, and alcohol. On Monday night, they were drinking together in the Sixth Street room. Winters left alone between 7:30 and 8 pm. Tiernan stayed in, and that was the last time he saw his
friend Evelyn.

Nathan’s take on the case is here.

Confidential to 1947project readers: 1947 has been an incredible year, and we hope to see you over at our new digs real soon, where the subject is 1907.

The Winters of Our Discontent

Note: Kim’s take on this case is here.

1947:  a lot of women-killing, a lot of booze. It’s enough to turn one into a teetotaling sub. Almost. And here, a woman killing herself. With booze. Nowadays, her family would call up A&E and she�d be on Intervention. Perfect fodder for the show–someone: somewhere once, nowhere now. Our identified family member has hit bottom. Get them into treatment. God, give me the strength to blame those who did this to me, to accuse those who didn’t, and the wisdom to know the difference…a lifetime of coffee, cigarettes and forced clapping after each and every utterance. Evelyn Winters was described as “brilliant” by those who knew her, a legal eagle for the studio system since she was 23, til her alcholism caught up with her and she was shitcanned from the film colony at 37. Was there sensitivity training in the workplace for those who still suffer? This is 1947. The only place you’ll be happy, joyous and free is in the afterlife. For more information about alcohol, ask a parent or teacher! Or go here. The elephant in the copy room went to the elephant graveyard: skid row. Where does a homeless 800-lb. gorilla sleep? Anywhere it can. And so forth. Evelyn’s last known address–September, 1946–was here, at 2822 Rowena:

But in the months prior to her assault and murder she had been living in the beer parlors on Hill and Figueroa, keeping what was left of her belongings in a liquor store. She was out carousing, divorced, jobless, though with, I’d wager, a mind still keen and ticking, before she was found nearly nude, beaten, and dragged for some way, near the Ducommun Street railroad right-of-way, here: Evelyn, homeless, now has a homeless encampment on her site. So, then there’s this Tiernan character. He’s twelve years Evelyn’s junior. A former employee of the Angelus Bowling and Billiard Recreation Center, which is now a parking lot: (for more on prewar bowling alleys, go here) — he takes Evelyn to the Albany Hotel at 912 W. Sixth. He drinks with her there for a day and change and, if he is to be believed, she departs between 7:30 and 8pm. She is found at 12:10am. The Albany, where she may have had her last drink, or did not, is gone: (Sanwa Bank Plaza, AC Martin, 1990) Never did find a vintage image of the Albany; some flavor of the wiped-out neighborhood–one block west: And one block east: But why the hotel room? We don’t know. Tiernan didn’t live at the Albany. He lived at the Armondale, at 728 South Flower. Its site today: First off, what, already, is up with the Armondale Hotel? It has that “built on Indian burial ground” cachet that money can’t buy. Perhaps it was simply built over one of those giant magnets. The kind that attract ne’er-do-wells. The place had trouble attached from the get-go. Dale Carleton, developer and proprietor of the spanking-new 1914 Armondale, is sued by wifey Marie for a sizable share of his $250,000 net worth. Mrs. Carleton names a Ms. Helen Williams–Armondale telephone girl whose duties apparently went above and beyond the working of switchboard–as correspondent. 1919. Wilbert Garrison, 28, son of a wealthy publisher in New York, drove across country with a buddy and they holed up in the Armondale. A week later Wilbert left in his room his money, valuables, and a note indicating that he did not want to be a burden on others, and as such was ending his life. Despite the best efforts of the Nick Harris detective agency (who calls the cops in 1919), Wilbert is never found. 1930. Mrs. Louis Valenzuella, 40, ex-wife of Deputy Sheriff Valenzuella, is found dead in the Armondale of a suspected drug overdose. 1939. Washed-up boxer Louis Menney, 22, Armondale resident, is tackled by a priest after he sexually assaulted a 62 year-old woman in a church at 9th (now James M. Woods) and Green. Turns out he’d–moletsed? raped?–the papers will only mention “morals offenses”–a nine year-old in the church as well. Moreover, he’d done his business with a six year-old girl on the corner of 11th (now Chick Hearn) and Georgia, and also kidnapped and robbed an Agnes M—– and sexually assaulted a Margaret L—– in a church on West Adams; since the kidnapping charge is death penalty territory, we can only hope the Armondale’s most famous resident ended up in the proper hands. 1948. Francis Sylvester, of the Armondale, works across the street at the Western Union at 741 South Flower. Sylvester wires untold sums in care of himself to small outlying towns, where there are no Western Union offices, and destroys the records of the transactions. And 1965. Percy Hatch, 65, who had been in the hotel since 1957, started talking crazy-talk. As in, a loggorhea of obscenities for two straight weeks. Behind the Armondale registration desk was manager Nancy Furlow, 62, who, finally fed up with her repeated warnings, reached for the phone, and was shot dead by Hatch with one bullet. Hatch therewith turned the gun on himself. Shortly thereafter the Armondale was felled and a rather ill-advised Broadway was built on the site. Now a Macy’s, it resembles a Dawn mall on a slow day. For more on this exercise in brown, please go here. Tiernan had been reading with Evelyn at Central Library for a couple years. They would read, or shack up and drink, and maybe he’d talk bowling and maybe she’d talk law, but probably not. Neither he nor anyone else was ever charged. And so goes the final post of 1947. Soon there will be another liquor-infused ladykilling, and another, and Evelyn will be forgotten by all but her mother and best barfly pals and her killer, and God willing, she will become part of us.