Monday, March 22, 2021

The Return of Allah!

The “lost” Garden of Allah hotel on Sunset Boulevard is one of those vintage Hollywood experiences that I am slightly obsessed with. Located (almost) across the street from the Chateau Marmont, it provided a similar experience for actors, writers, and artists who liked to live on the fringe and play as hard (or harder) than they worked. This aerial view is pre-1951 and shows the Chateau on the fringe left of the shot and Garden of Allah and its distinctive swimming pool top right:

The other day, a friend tagged me in a post about one of the original neon signs reappearing all these years after the hotel closed down and was razed in 1959. How the heck did that happen?!? Here’s a shot of the sign in its heyday:

…and sadly,  how it looks now:

Thinking positively, how incredible is it that it still exists?!?

The main building of the hotel was the residence of silent screen superstar Alla Nazimova and known as Hayvenhurst, after the original owner William H. Hay:

Nazimova converted it into a hotel, hoping it would generate some extra income. Instead, her partners bankrupted her and she was forced to sell, moving east to New York shortly after. Returning to Hollywood in 1938, she stayed in Villa 24 and lived there until she died in 1945. Here is Arch Oboler with Alla Nazimova at the Hotel, September 10, 1940:

One of her final roles was a cameo in “Since You Went Away” (1944) about life on the homefront during World War II. When she recites the poem from the Statue of Liberty, she steals the scene from Claudette Colbert:

Back to Allah (with an “h”): Here is starlet Martha O'Driscoll at the Garden of Allah Hotel pool, June 1937:

Garden of Allah Hotel bungalow 9 with Henry Wilcoxon, 1934. Don’t recognize him? Maybe his role of Pentaur, the pharaoh's captain of the guards in “The Ten Commandments” rings a bell. If not that, how about the priest from “Caddyshack” who gets struck by lightning on the golf course?

Yes, that’s the same guy!

Of course you know this famous Garden of Allah guest, Humphrey Bogart, with his then wife Mary Phillips, shown in their room in the late 1930's


Sorry for all the Allah rambling; back to the point of the post! So what’s happening with the sign? Wish I knew. There is a movement to get the sign installed at the steaming-turd-of-a-monstrosity that Frank Gehry has designed to be built on the property where the Garden of Allah once thrived:

The seller is wanting a cool $50k for it, which puts it out of the reach of the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale. Will the city of Hollywood/West Hollywood step forward and buy this piece of history? Only time will tell!

See more vintage Garden of Allah photos at my main website.


Fifthrider said...

God bless 'em for trying but $50k is not realistic. I'm glad someone owns the sign and cares, but at that price no one else will. Always cool to see the pics and learn the history, so sorry that Alla herself intended to make revenue but lost it.

Did you ever visit the WDW version of it? ( Miniature, idealized, etc. ) I seem to think you have but forgot. Nothing comes close to an original.

It's sad that we're seeing so many places closing or repurposing their existences today, the Marmont being only the latest. I'm glad I visited the house where Walt's garage was, as well as the Garden Grove lot where it currently sits. Tomorrow it may be shuttered, levelled and turned into a parking lot.

Frank Gehry makes every building look like Toontown. I just assume all of his buildings have a half-level inside of it like in Being John Malkovich.

Daveland said...

$50k for a Gehry building project is probably a drop in the bucket! Fingers crossed! So far, the Marmont is continuing business as usual, too, which is good. Unfortunately, I never saw the WDW version of Allah; is it still there and did it function as a hotel?

Martin Turnbull, the Garden of Allah novels said...

That shot of Martha O'Driscoll is a new one on me. That recreation of the Garden of Allah at Universal is more of a facade than an actual building. They do hold events inside, mainly audience testing, I think. I wish I'd made the effort to go see it when I was in Orlando a couple of years ago.

Fifthrider said...

Looks like I was way off. I've seen pics of it so I knew it existed, but I thought it was part of the original WDW "MGM Hollywood Studios" for some reason. It's hard to get a perspective of what the full thing looks like based on just pics.

1) It was at Universal Studios FL, and technically still is
2) It's first use was for an attraction called "How to Make a Mega Movie Deal"
3) Over time it became offices and cast/costuming area.
4) Many park guests assumed it was the entry to a VIP hotel within the park and didn't go in there because they simply didn't think it was open to look in
5) As of 2015 it became an attraction called "NBC Media Center" which based on this article is... Paid marketing research?

Wow, they don't even try to hide it anymore.

Still, the fact that it was built and still exists is cool. I'm checking out a 5 min video on YT from around 2012 where someone filmed walking around the exterior courtyard. Obviously it's a highly abbreviated version of the original, just enough to give you the flavor without actually having any of the peace and quiet of the real thing. ....not with all those cartoonish "Boing!" noises coming from the Spongebob Fun Factory next to it.

Fifthrider said...

...and by the time I finished writing this Martin already figured it out. Thank you sir, and THANK YOU Martin for keeping that slice of time alive for the rest of us in your books.

Martin Turnbull, the Garden of Allah novels said...

Thanks, Fifthrider. I appreciate that. It always irks me that Florida has a recreated Garden of Allah but LA doesn't. They've also got a recreated Schwab's, which is almost as annoying!

Daveland said...

Martin - Thanks for all the extra info and Bryan - thanks for the link to the site with the pics of Allah in Orlando.

With the Pandemic, I'm wondering if the Gehry piece of poo has been rethought. Do we really need another monstrosity like that? Another Garden of Allah...THAT we could use! As a hotel though; not for marketing research!

Martin Turnbull, the Garden of Allah novels said...

The Gehry project has been redesigned. It's now noticeably smaller, with noticeably bigger greenspace in and around it, so that's something. A faithfully recreated Garden of Allah would be great, of course, but it would be far too low-density for the area. However, if the developers could purchase that sign and put it back where it started, that would be something, at least.

Daveland said...

Hi Martin - I believe the redesign was pre-COVID. The world has changed and so has the model for our people live. Still hoping for a third time's the charm version.