Introducing the Garden of Allah Novels companion map of Los Angeles and Hollywood

I’ve always been a bit of a map fan, especially the sort of maps that show “Bright Spots of Hollywood” or a map of Beverly Hills courtesy of the Beverly Hills USO Canteen during WWII.

At the top of my one-of-these-days wishlist, I had always thought about putting together a map of Los Angeles & Hollywood showing the major spots around town during those golden years, featuring the places that I write about in my novels. I thought it might give readers a clearer idea of where Ciro’s and the Mocambo and Romanoff’s were in relation to each other, and to Marcus, and Kathryn, and Gwendolyn’s home at the Garden of Allah Hotel.

But the design and software skills necessary to put something like that together were far beyond my pay grade. When I mentioned my I-have-a-map-dream to Dave DeCaro at Davelandweb whose terrific map of Disneyland I’ve long admired (read: map envy), he suggested we work on one together.

This was quite some time ago and I don’t think either of us quite imagined how much time and effort a project like this would take. But isn’t that often the way? If you knew ahead of time how much work was involved, you might not have started it in the first place. It’s probably a good thing we weren’t blessed with foresight because it’s now done and I am very, very happy with the results.

The Garden of Allah Novels companion map of Los Angeles and HollywoodClick to enlarge, then click again for an even larger image.

 Map by Dave DeCaro at Davelandweb

This map is also available on


8150 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened – 9th January 1927, Closed August 1959

8024 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened – 1932, Closed October 1983

9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
Opened 12TH MAY 1912, Still open

3377 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Opened – 1926, Closed 1980

1628 Vine St, Hollywood
Opened February 14th,1929, Closed 1987

8796 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
Opened 1939, Closed 1948

8610 Sunset Boulevard
Opened 18th September 1934 with a checkered history after that. The building was pulled down in 1963.

7007 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1929

9039 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 13th December 1936 as Chasen’s Southern Barbecue Pit, Closed 2000

8221 Sunset Boulevard
Opened 1st February 1929, Still open

6724 Hollywood Boulevard
Opened in 1922, building still standing

8433 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened January 30th 1940, Closed 1957

8477 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened 14th October 1937, Closed 1944

9170 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood.
Opened 1937, Closed 1987

1727 North McCadden Place, Hollywood
Opened in 1933

6708 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened October 18th 1922, Still open

6838 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1926 as a legitimate theater called the Paramount, then became a movie theater in 1941, Still open

5951 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened December 28th, 1938, Still in operation

7021 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened on New Year’s Eve 1919

6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened May 18th 1927, Still open

Highland Ave, Hollywood
Opened July 11th 1922, Still open

1451 Cahuenga Boulevard (on the corner of Sunset), Hollywood
Opened October 3rd 1942, Closed November 2nd 1945

Corner of Hollywood and Highland
Opened 1903, Closed 1956.

6215 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1940, Still open

7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened May 15th 1927, Still open

1714 Ivar Ave, Hollywood
Opened 1925, building still standing

1637 Vine St., Hollywood
Opened September 3rd 1937

Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1934. Later became Frederick’s of Hollywood. Building still standing

8361 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened by Hollywood Reporter’s Billy Wilkerson on April 22nd 1944

8588 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened January 3rd 1941, Closed 1959

6753-63 Hollywood Boulevard
Opened December 1922, fallen out of popularity by mid-1930s, building still standing

6667 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened in 1919, remodeled in 1937, Still open

233 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened June 4th 1930, Still open

8225 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened Summer of 1940, sold off circa mid-1950s

325 (326?) North Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills
Opened December 19th 1940, Closed New Year’s Eve 1962

1716 North Cahuenga Ave, Hollywood
Opened in 1930, Closed 1988.

6666 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened May1933, Closed late 1938, later reopened as Ruby Foo’s.

3050 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 26th September 1929, Closed 2nd April 1993

3400 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened May 1921, Closed 1989

3401 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 1936, Closed late 1960s.

7156 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 1925, Still open

314 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills
Opened July 1947 by Hollywood Reporter’s Billy Wilkerson, who sold it in October 1948.

6316 San Vicente Boulevard
Opened 1926, Demolished 1969

Venice Pier, Venice
Built 1905, Razed October 1946


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Katharine Hepburn at the Garden of Allah Hotel (The Katharine Hepburn blogathon of May 2014)

Katharine Hepburn Blogathon 2014

When Margaret Perry asked me to participate in this wonderful Katharine Hepburn blogathon, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: in 1941, Hepburn installed herself at the Garden of Allah Hotel and helped put together the first of the Hepburn/Tracy films, Woman of the Year.

The Garden of Allah Hotel stood at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights. Originally the residence of silent screen star, Alla Nazimova, it was converted into a hotel during late 1926 and opened in 1927, just months before The Jazz Singer heralded the dawn of the talkies, and closed in 1959 at the dusk of the studio system. Over the 32 years it was open, a Who’s Who of Hollywood names called it home: Errol Flynn, Tallulah Bankhead, Harpo Marx, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Bogie and Bacall, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles—the list is virtually endless. A well-known watering hole for actors and writers, it was the perfect place that Hepburn was needed during the spring of 1941.

In 1938, after a string of flops (which included the now-classic Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant), Katharine found herself declared box office poison. She remedied that by going to Howard Hughes and asking him to help finance a play called The Philadelphia Story, which she performed on the stage in 1939 and brought to the screen in 1941. The movie proved to be the fifth most popular at the US box office that year, thus putting Kate back on track. But being back on track and staying back on track are two different things and she was searching for a solid follow-up.

It arrived in the form of writer/director Garson Kanin. A story about a down-to-earth sports columnist reluctantly falling in love with a more famous news reporter came to him when he received a letter from sports writer Jimmy Cannon after Cannon had spent an evening with political columnist Dorothy Thompson. He thought the character based on Thompson would be a good fit for Hepburn, whom he’d met through Vivien Leigh during the Broadway run of The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn pounced on the idea.

The two of them recruited a pair of screenwriters: Garson’s brother Michael Kanin (who would later co-write Teacher’s Pet starring Clark Gable and Doris Day) and Ring Lardner Jr. (who would go on to become one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, the group of film people who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee which led to their being jailed and blackballed from the industry.) So Hepburn rented one of the villas at the Garden of Allah Hotel and the foursome locked themselves in and banged out the story.

Shady side paths at the Garden of Allah Hotel

Shady side paths at the Garden of Allah Hotel

Chasen’s was a famous restaurant at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Doheny Drive. It was very popular with the Hollywood crowd—particularly for its chili—and wasn’t too far from the Garden of Allah, so Hepburn had Chasen’s deliver their meals so that no time need be lost. The villas at the Garden of Allah were also self-contained so they had everything they needed to get the job done in the time available to them. Well, not everything. They also hired a pair of typists who tag-teamed the hard work of typing out draft after draft. By the end of the five days the poor women’s fingers were “too stiff to hold a cigarette.” But between the determined star, the three talented writers, and two hardy typists, they got the job done.

The most-generally accepted version of what happened has them putting the whole thing together in just five days because WWII was now on, and Garson Kanin was being drafted. But Woman of the Year had its premiere on January 19th, 1942, barely six weeks after Pearl Harbor. Anne Edward’s biography says that Hepburn sold the project to MGM in early May of 1941 which means this intense stay at the Garden of Allah must have happened some time between late April to early May 1941—seven months before Pearl Harbor. So Garson’s imminent drafting can’t have been the reason, but every source I’ve come across says that by the end of five days, they had a detailed treatment of a film they were now calling Woman of the Year.

By the Monday morning, Hepburn took the 106 pages they’d churned out (she’d promised Mayer 60 pages—talk about an over-achiever!) and delivered them personally to MGM, then retreated to her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel to sit by the phone. When it rang the next day, Sam Katz, a vice president at MGM was on the other end of the line offering her $175,000. But Hepburn held out for $210,000 (talk about ballsy!) — $50,000 each for Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner Jr., $10,000 for her agent, Leland Hayward, and $1000 for the Garden of Allah bill. (Garson Kanin never got any screen credit on Woman of the Year so I suspect maybe he and Hepburn came to an arrangement of some sort—he went on to write two more Hepburn/Tracy pictures: Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952.)) Katz knew the project was too good to turn down so he  agreed to Hepburn’s price. It set the record for the highest amount ever paid by a Hollywood studio for an original screenplay. Word soon got out around Hollywood that a woman (a box-office poisoned one, at that) had beaten a major Hollywood studio at its own game.

To her enormous credit, Hepburn withheld the names of the two screenwriters until after Film Daily 16OCT1941the deal was agreed on. Previously, both Kanin and Lardner had only earned a maximum of $3000 for a screenplay, and here was Hepburn seeing to it that they earned $50,000. In a number of ways, Woman of the Year was a game-changer, and a history maker.

Hepburn’s first choice to play opposite her was Spencer Tracy but he was on location in Florida shooting The Yearling, so MGM suggested Clark Gable or Walter Pidgeon. Either of those actors would probably have been fine, but The Yearling suffered location problems and was shut down. Suddenly Tracy was available for Woman of the Year.

In her book, Me: Stories of My Life, Hepburn said that Tracy needed to be convinced to work with her. At their first meeting, he took exception to the dirt under her fingernails and her preference for wearing pants. She said to him, “I’m afraid I’m a little too tall for you.” To which he replied, “Don’t worry, I’ll cut you down to my size.”

Spencer Tracy Katharine Hepburn in "Woman of the Year."

Spencer Tracy Katharine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year.”

Apparently he did because Woman of the Year saw the start of a decades-long relationship between the stars, was the first of a legendary run of nine movies the two stars made together, won a pair of Best Original Screenplay Oscars for Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., and inspired a Broadway musical in 1981 starring Lauren Bacall which in itself won 5 Tony awards and ran for over 700 performances.

But none of it would have happened without Hepburn’s drive, tenacity, energy and good old New England pluck to take charge of her career during a time when women were largely stuck toiling in the men’s sandbox. It took a lot to pull off a deal like this, even more to see it through to such a successful conclusion, and for that, Katharine Hepburn deserves a heaping helping of credit.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 1.03.54 PM

Click here to see the original movie trailer for “Woman of the Year.”

“Hollywood’s Garden of Allah Novels by Martin Turnbull” on Facebook

The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull

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Announcing the release of Book Three of the Garden of Allah novels: CITIZEN HOLLYWOOD

"Citizen Hollywood" by Martin Turnbull

“Citizen Hollywood
by Martin Turnbull
Book 3 in the Garden of Allah novels

I am very happy to announce that my next novel “Citizen Hollywood”
is now available.

The story picks up in April of 1939, a month after the end of The Trouble with Scarlett.


Theater and radio wunderkind Orson Welles stashes himself at the Chateau Marmont until he’s ready to make his splashy entrance. But Kathryn Massey knows he’s there.

Now that Kathryn is back at the Hollywood Reporter, she’s desperate to find the Next Big Thing. Scooping Welles’ secret retreat would put her back on the map, but by the time she hears rumors about his dangerous new movie, she’s fallen prey to his charms.

Marcus Adler is still scrambling for his first screen credit. His Strange Cargo will star Clark Gable after Gone with the Wind wraps. A huge opportunity knocks but Machiavellian studio politics mean Marcus’ name might not make it to the screen. It’s time to play No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Gwendolyn Brick is nearly 30. Her baby brother wants her to move with him to the exotic Orient, but she wants to give Hollywood one last go. When she saves Daryl Zanuck from humiliation, he rewards her with a chance at a role in a major movie.

When William Randolph Hearst realizes Citizen Kane is based on him, he won’t be happy—and when Hearst isn’t happy, nobody’s safe.


The first chapter is available to read on my website: CHAPTER ONE


Martin Turnbull with "Citizen Hollywood"

Martin Turnbull with
“Citizen Hollywood”

Citizen Hollywood will available in all formats. The paperback and Kindle ebook versions are available right now:

Amazon (US) paperback

Amazon (US) Kindle ebook

Amazon (UK) paperback

Amazon (UK) Kindle ebook

And the other versions (including the ones below) will become available as they come online (but they each seem to do it at their own unpredictable pace so check back on the Citizen Hollywood page of my website for updates.)

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook

Apple iTunes ebook

Kobo ebook

Audio book


And when you have read it (and assuming, of course, that you enjoyed it), if you have the chance and inclination, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review on my Amazon page. Rate it as many stars as you see fit, and give your honest opinion. The more reviews a book has, the higher its Amazon profile. Thanks!


Have you read Book One yet?

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin TurnbullThe Garden on Sunset

is available in all formats

More information can be found on my website:

> > >   S P E C I A L   P R O M O T I O N   < < <

As a special promotion to celebrate the release of Citizen Hollywood,
the Kindle version of The Garden on Sunset has been slashed
to only 99 cents until Sunday 16th February 2014.
Procrastination is not recommended!

PLEASE NOTE: It is not necessary to have a Kindle ereader to read the Kindle version of any book.You can download the free Kindle app for any
computer, smart phone or mobile device.


You can also follow me on

Facebook: gardenofallahnovels


And a personal note to everyone who have read The Garden on Sunset and The Trouble with Scarlett and took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed it:
Your support has been wonderfully encouraging.

All the best,

Martin Turnbull

P.S. – feel free to pass this email along to anybody who you think might be interested!

Stay current on all the giddy goings-on inside the Garden of Allah by signing up to the e-mailing list!

The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull

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The Holy Grail: One man’s search for the Garden of Allah Hotel scale model

Indiana Jones had his Lost Ark.
Ponce de Leon had his Fountain of Youth.
Sam Spade had his Maltese Falcon.

And I, too, have been on the search for my own personal Holy Grail.

At this point (October 2013) I’ve been reading, researching and writing about Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard for eight years. The very first book I picked up was “The Garden of Allah” by gossip columnist Sheilah Graham who spent some time there, mainly during her relationship with Garden of Allah resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the late 1930s. The cover of her book features a photo of not the hotel itself, but a scale model. Somewhere in her book, Graham mentioned that when the hotel was razed and a mini mall was built on the site, a scale model of the Garden of Allah was made and placed in the foyer of the bank that sits there now.

Thus, my quest began!

Although I figured it was unlikely that something as fragile as a model still existed all these years later (the hotel closed in August of 1959), I hoped that perhaps someone recognized its value and kept it safe. From time to time, I’d hear stories—I started to think of them more as ‘urban legends’—about the model. Like how the bank did a renovation and, no longer knowing (or caring) what the model was of, planned to throw it out. I’d also hear how one of the tenants in the mall took it and had it on display in their store. Sometimes, I’d hear that the tenant retired or moved away and took the model with him. Or threw it out. Or gave it to someone else.

A video of it popped up online a while ago so I knew it still existed. Then it was offered up in some strange sort of private auction for an outrageous starting price. When I contacted the seller about its current whereabouts and condition, I’d get a couple of vague answers and then nothing.

The trail went cold.

Recently, I was surfing around some of the West Hollywood community websites—they occasionally do stories on the Garden of Allah Hotel—when I came across a comment posted by one of the readers saying, in effect, “Oh, and by the way, if anybody’s interested, I have the model.”

My head spun around fast enough to make Linda Blair flip out when I saw the reader included his email address. By the end of that same day, he and I exchanged several emails. He was more than happy for both Jon Ponder (from Playground To The Stars and Alla Nazimova Society) and I to drop by and see the model for ourselves.

It was quite a thrill. Not only to finally get to see the model, but to find it in such a well-preserved state. The guy said that when it sat in the bank, there was no cover on it so when he brought it home, he spent countless hours carefully cleaning it with Q-tips. The wiring still worked, but he needed to replace about 75% of the bulbs. He also mounted it on a table and custom-built a glass cover. And there it sat, in all its glory my Holy Grail.

And you can bet I had my camera at the ready!

(Click on all photos for a larger version.)

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I also shot two short videos with my basic point-and-shoot camera:

So, the lesson here is to take your urban legends seriously and never give up the search for your own Holy Grail.


The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull

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FROM HAYVENHURST TO THE GARDEN OF ALLAH: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of a Los Angeles icon

William Hay is a name not heard too often these days, but this year marks the 100th anniversary of the construction of what became one of the most iconic watering holes in Los Angeles history.

Hay was a Los Angeles developer who did much to shape the landscape of West Hollywood. In 1905, he developed an area he called Crescent Heights whose boundaries were Sunset Boulevard, Fairfax Avenue, (then known as Crescent Drive,) Santa Monica Blvd, and Hayvenhurst Drive. (Originally, Havenhurst Dr. was spelled with a “y.”)

Hayvenhurst at 8152 Sunset Boulevard, built 1913

Hayvenhurst at 8152 Sunset Boulevard, built 1913

By 1913, Hay had divorced his first wife and married Katherine, his second. He built an estate on a still-unpaved Sunset Boulevard for them, which he dubbed “Hayvenhurst.” Around 1915, and for reasons lost in the mists of time, Hay built a second mansion where the Director’s Guild now stands and left Hayvenhurst to stand empty until the arrival of one of the most famous and highest-paid actresses of the era.

By the time she moved to Hollywood in 1918, Russian-born Alla Nazimova was a highly successful leading lady on Broadway, heralded for her definitive interpretations of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House. Based on the success of her first movie, War Brides in 1916, Nazimova was offered a five-year, $13,000-a-week contract with Metro Studios, working for future MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer. Such was her power that not only did her contract pay her $3,000 a week more than Mary Pickford, but it awarded her the right to approve director, script, and leading man. Following the success of Revelation and Toys of Fate (both 1918) Nazimova moved to Los Angeles to begin production on her third film, Eye for Eye.

Alla Nazimova in her 1921 production of "Camille"

Alla Nazimova in her 1921 production of “Camille”

A grand movie star needs a grand movie star mansion, so when she came across the unoccupied Hayvenhurst mansion, she leased it from Hay, and spent $65,000 remodeling the place inside and out, building a pool, and landscaping the property’s three and a half acres. She named it the “Garden of Alla” referring to an enormously popular 1904 novel The Garden of Allah by Robert Smythe Hichens (made in a movie by David O. Selznick starring Marlene Dietrich in the mid-1930s.)

To keep this in historical perspective, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks purchased a remote hunting lodge they would rename Pickfair in 1919, and then spent five years remodeling it into a mock-Tudor four-story, 25-room mansion. So during this time, Nazimova’s “Garden of Alla” was probably the westernmost fine movie star home in all of Los Angeles. Beverly Hills didn’t start attracting its share of celebrities until after Pickfair was completed in 1924.

The completion of Alla’s renovations saw the beginnings of the house’s rise to prominence. When Nazimova arrived in Hollywood, she found a worrying dearth of culture. So she started up a weekly salon along the lines of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salons, and gathered together fellow European ex-patriots and other well-educated intellectuals around silent-era Hollywood to discuss all manner of subjects: philosophy, literature, art, history and, no doubt, sock away copious amounts of illicit booze in the process.

Being an intelligent, ambitious and talented woman, Nazimova liked to surround herself with like-minded folk, and her salons often included people like playwright and screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta (a close friend of Greta Garbo), stage actress Eva la Gallienne (one-time lover of Tallulah Bankhead . . . but then again, who wasn’t?), actress Jean Acker (married to Valentino), actress Lilyan Tashman (famous for her million-dollar wardrobe), and Natacha Rambova, costume designer on Nazimova’s 1923 movie Salome, and the second wife of Valentino.

Unfortunately, being a highly paid movie actress doesn’t guarantee you have the smarts when it comes to money. By the mid-1920s, Nazimova had suffered a number of disastrous films and found herself facing bankruptcy. A couple by the name of Jean & John Adams approached her with a plan to turn her property into a hotel. On the surface of it, the plan seemed sound. It would ensure an on-going income as Nazimova slid towards the unemployable middle age that actresses understandably fear. Nazimova readily agreed, left them with what was probably most of her dough to clear the land and build 25 two-story villas (later expanded to 30), and hit the road to revive her once-illustrious theater career.

Leaving Los Angeles was probably Nazimova’s big mistake. Had she stuck around and kept an eye on what the Adamses were up to, she might have caught onto the fact that they were shysters out to bilk her for every last penny they could squeeze. By the time the hotel opened in January of 1927, Nazimova was back in Los Angeles but the project had drained her of nearly all her money and the Adamses were nowhere to be found. The hotel opened and, thanks to the house’s reputation of being an interesting place where interesting people gathered to talk about interesting things, quickly became a popular place to stay. However, Nazimova was broke and reduced to living in one of the villas now standing in what used to be her own backyard.

On July 17, 1928, Nazimova sold the Garden of Alla back to Hay. He paid her $80,000 but deducted debts accrued by the Adamses. Nazimova ended up with $7,500 after having sunk $250,000 into the hotel. Hay installed a management company and he continued to run it until June of 1930 when he sold his interest in the Garden of Allah to the Central Holding Corporation. By this stage, the hotel was now known as the Garden of Allah (with an “h”—something that Nazimova frowned on) and the hotel’s glory years began.

Advertisement for the Garden of Allah hotel, 8152 Sunset Blvd

Advertisement for the Garden of Allah hotel, 8152 Sunset Blvd

From the late 1920s, through the Depression, the war years and into the ‘50s, the Garden of Allah could always provide hopeful Hollywood arrivals with a pillow, a pal, and a party. Over those years, a virtual who’s who of Hollywood checked in: Bogie and Bacall, Errol Flynn, David Niven, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Artie Shaw, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Colman, Louis Calhern, John Carradine, Dorothy Gish, Kay Thompson, Jackie Gleason, Leopold Stokowski, Orson Welles, Gloria Stuart, Ava Gardner, and Frank Sinatra are just some of the people who called the Garden of Allah home.

At the same time, the Garden of Allah became an extension of the Algonquin Round Table. Humorist and theater critic Robert Benchley was one of the first to take up residence. So when Dorothy Parker was offered the Hollywood carrot, she too checked in. Fellow scribes and Algonquinites followed, including Donald Ogden Stewart (“Marie Antoinette”, “The Women”, “The Philadelphia Story”) Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly (“Captains Courageous”, “I Married a Witch”, “Merton of the Movies”), George S. Kaufman (“Dinner at Eight”, “A Night at the Opera”, “A Day at the Races”, “The Man Who Came To Dinner”)

A tightly knit community evolved among the Garden of Allah residents, creatives for whom the motion picture was an art form. Outside the Garden’s walls were the control-freaky front office suits requiring them to start tapping away at their typewriters at 9 a.m. and stop at 5 p.m. as though they were simply taking dictation and happy to fit in with the carpenters and scenery painters. The Garden of Allah’s writers and actors found themselves among kindred spirits who understood the pressures and frustrations that went along with a successful Hollywood career. Being the outgoing, sharp-witted and articulate types, they spent a lot of time socializing together. There was always some sort of party going on, especially if the unofficially self-appointed host of the Garden of Allah, Robert Benchley, was in town.

Attracting an ongoing flow of actors, writers, musicians, directors, and technicians, it could be said that the Garden of Allah evolved into a microcosm of Hollywood itself. Opening at the dawn of the talkies in 1927, and closing at the dusk of the studio system in 1959, the residents of the Garden of Allah saw the unfolding of what we now fondly call the golden years of Hollywood. They witnessed—and not insignificantly contributed to—the advent of sound, the development of Technicolor, the rise and subsequent decline of the power and popularity of radio, the propaganda war machine years of World War II, and the battle against the onslaught of television with widescreen epics through the 1950s. No other hotel in Hollywood’s fabled history—not the neighboring Chateau Marmont, the glamorous Beverly Hills Hotel, or the recently lamented Ambassador Hotel—could lay claim to such a central role in the evolution of the art form that, it could well be argued, came to define the century.

Like the studio system itself, the writing began to appear on the stuccoed walls of the Garden of Allah by the late 1950s. A series of ever-more apathetic management buyouts saw the Garden decline in popularity. By that time, the population of Hollywood (and by extension Los Angeles) was more stable and had less need for the sort of long-term residency that the Garden offered. And so in 1959, it fell to its knees before the great Angelean harbinger: the God of Progress, and was sold to yet another developer who tore it down and converted the site into a mini mall that looks like any other mini mall between San Pedro and Rancho Cucamonga.

Proposed "8150 Sunset" mixed use redevelopment of the Garden of Allah site on Sunset Boulevard, announced September 2013

Proposed “8150 Sunset” mixed use redevelopment of the Garden of Allah site on Sunset Boulevard, announced September 2013

In September 2013, a property development company called Townscape announced their plans to build a mixed-use project on the site of the Garden of Allah. The plans for “8150 Sunset” include a 9-story tower alongside a 16-story tower, together with various restaurants, bars, stores, a market, and seven levels of parking. Pretty much everybody agrees that something must be done with the mini mall eyesore that has stood in the Garden of Allah’s place for the past 50 years, and at this point there’s no telling what the final project will look like.

A faithful rebuilding of the Garden of Allah Hotel would be too much to hope for, but the developers have gone out of their way to make the point that they’d like to incorporate into their plans some sort of tribute which acknowledges that upon this land once stood a unique Hollywood icon.


The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~~~oOo~~~

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Announcing the launch of the ALLA NAZIMOVA SOCIETY

Six or seven years ago when I first started to research and write my Garden of Allah series, I had no idea where it might take me, or who I might meet along the way. Facebook wasn’t on my radar yet, and Twitter probably wasn’t even on the radar of the guy who dreamed it up.

Since then, of course, I’ve met all sorts of people who share my interest in and passion for Hollywood movies, Los Angeles history and architecture, and the personalities who have shaped it over the years. I have a lively and active bunch of Facebookers who make me laugh, share my discoveries, and fill in my gaps.

The Garden of Allah hotel, 8152 Sunset Blvd

The Garden of Allah hotel, 8152 Sunset Blvd

A little while ago, however, one particular Facebooker caught my attention. Whenever I posted something about the Garden of Allah hotel and its original occupant, Alla Nazimova, this person would make a remarkably knowledgeable or insightful observation. It quickly became obvious to me that whoever he was, he sure knew his stuff. His moniker – Playground to the Stars – piqued my curiosity too so I clicked onto his Facebook page and found it was dedicated to the Sunset Strip with loads of references to Nazimova and the Garden of Allah.

So I emailed him and asked him who the hell he was, and how come he knew so much about Nazimova and the Garden of Allah???? He replied, telling me that his name is Jon Ponder and “Playground to the Stars” is the title of a book he’s writing about the history of the Sunset Strip, of which the Garden of Allah plays a central role. When I suggested that we ought to meet, he readily agreed. Handily, we live within 10 miles of each other.

That lunch was a two-hour gabfest about all things Nazimova, the Garden of Allah and the Sunset Strip. Jon’s been researching this stuff longer than I have! He recognized the important role that the Garden of Allah played in the development of the Strip and is using it as a framework in which to set his crime-and-scandal account of one of L.A.’s most famous boulevards. It became pretty obvious to me that we’ve been walking different sides of the same street for the past few years—me on the fiction side of Sunset Boulevard and he on the non-fiction.

Alla Nazimova, in 1921

Alla Nazimova, in 1921

Over more lunches, dinners, brunches and wine, a wonderful friendship has ensued. During the course of all that free-flowing chardonnay, we shared a lament that Nazimova, the gal who started it all, who was once a great and shining star of both stage and screen now languishes largely forgotten. In 1917, when Mary Pickford was earning $10,000 a week, Nazimova was earning $13,000, making her the highest paid actress in the world. In the early 1920s, when most career-minded women in America could only choose between the typing pool and standing behind the make-up counter at Bullocks, Nazimova was producing her own movies.

For all that, and so much more, we decided that Alla Nazimova deserves to be remembered and celebrated for everything she was and everything she contributed to motion pictures, theater, Los Angeles, feminism and history. So to that end, we have now launched the


Alla Nazimova Society website

Alla Nazimova Society website

The Alla Nazimova Society is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artistry of the extraordinary Alla Nazimova. Our website is filled with all the information and photos we can lay our hands on which cover her life in all its incarnations. Our aim is to become the go-to source for everything there is to know about her life.

We invite you to come visit us, browse around the information we’re posting, join our mailing list, share your thoughts with us. We would love to hear your contributions and receive your participation. And so, we suspect, would Nazimova herself.

Alla Nazimova Society website

Alla Nazimova Society on Facebook

Playground to the Stars website

Playground to the Stars on Facebook

Martin Turnbull website

Garden of Allah novels on Facebook

Garden of Allah novels by Martin Turnbull

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Coming attractions: Book 3 of the Garden of Allah novels – “Citizen Hollywood” – Chapter 1

Progress toward publication of “Citizen Hollywood” – the 3rd novel in the Garden of Allah series – is about to take a big step: I’ll soon be sending the manuscript to my editor, Meghan Pinson, for the first (of two) round of editing. But for those readers out there who’d like a taste of what’s coming, I am very pleased to present the first chapter.

"Citizen Hollywood" - book 3, the Garden of Allah novels


a novel by
Martin Turnbull

Book 3 in the Garden of Allah series


Gwendolyn Brick could feel the resentment filling her like a blister. As the curvy cigarette girl at the Cocoanut Grove, she was used to being ogled, but the looks lingered longer now. They came with a smirk from the men and a sneer from the women, and there was no point pretending she didn’t know why.

It was inevitable that someone would say something. Sooner or later, a snarky bastard was going to have that one drink too many and snap off some smart line to impress his friends.

When she spotted two men in suits of imitation vicuña following the maître d’, she pegged them as trouble. They reeked of midlevel studio yes-men with enough power to sway pretty young girls. The maître d’ sat them near the dance floor, which meant they were well connected and not the sort she could afford to rebuke—especially now that Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen had bought the Trocadero. All Cocoanut Grove staff had been instructed not to put any client’s nose out of joint. No exceptions.

People were less inclined to be seen at a nightclub with mob connections, but Siegel and Cohen were influential men and their aggressive marketing had bitten into the Grove’s business. It was ten o’clock on a Friday night, and the outermost ring of tables was largely empty.

Gwendolyn had seen studio execs like these two bozos a thousand times before. They were lining the far edge of their table with empty highball glasses to advertise their drinking prowess, and within an hour, they were at four apiece. Gwendolyn watched the one with the red hair open his platinum cigarette holder and screw up his nose in annoyance. There was nothing for it but to take them head-on.

The blond one wore a pencil moustache that looked suave on Clark Gable but slimy on him. “Cigar,” he said. “Cuban if you have it. Any brand.” She handed him a one-dollar cigar and he gave her a twenty-dollar bill. “You can keep the change if you just say it for me.” A drip of sweat snuck out from under his toupee and rounded the back of his ear, but he was too plowed to notice.

“What is it you want me to say?” Gwendolyn asked.

Pencil Moustache leaned forward. “Fiddle-dee-dee.”

Gwendolyn let out a soft groan.

Back in the days before David O. Selznick cast Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, every pretty girl from California to Maine reveled in the sparkling hope that she might be Scarlett O’Hara. Gwendolyn had even wrangled herself into what she thought was her screen test, but turned out to be Hattie McDaniel’s for the role of Mammy. Gwendolyn was just there to give Hattie someone to act off. Not that it mattered, because it became the most disastrous screen test in history. Gwendolyn’s dress caught fire and she stumbled into the backdrop and her hoop skirt flipped up, and she wasn’t wearing panties. And the camera was still rolling. In Technicolor.

“The fiddle?” Gwendolyn stalled.

Pencil Moustache grabbed her by the elbow. “Come now, you sweet lil ol’ Southern belle, you.” His fingers bit into her skin. “Say it and my nineteen bucks in change is all yours.”

Gwendolyn felt her eyes tearing up. Her gaze fell on a table of two couples. The women were talking and nodding with their heads almost close enough to touch, and both were looking directly at her. The men were simply staring at her.

She pulled out her widest smile. “Come on, fellas. How about you give a poor working girl a break?”

The guy pulled out another twenty and dropped it next to the other. He ran the tip of his finger along the edge of her tray and pushed down on it. If he let go suddenly, Chesterfields and Monte Cristos would launch in every direction. She felt his other hand wrap around her arm like a python; her hand began to throb. His chum began to snort with laughter.

Whiskey breath filled the space between them. “Less the buck for the cigar, that’s a thirty-nine-dollar tip for you, Scarlett, my dear. Not bad for three little words. Come on. Say it like you did in your screen test. Just for me.” He pushed down on the tray a little bit harder.

“Why you wanna get me in troub—”

“I hope you’ve got a very good reason why you’re manhandling my sister like that.”

Gwendolyn watched Pencil Moustache’s eyes widen as he took in all six feet four of her darling baby brother. He released her arm and cautiously lifted his finger from her tray.

Gwendolyn turned around and drank in the sight of Monty in full dress uniform. The five gold buttons down his front picked up the lights from the stage and seemed to glow like beacons against the stark alabaster of his jacket. His face was granite, but she knew that look in his eye. She used to see it when he’d just gotten away with mischief, like stealing fresh cookies from the window sill of the Crowley place around the corner.

Monty stepped up to the table and saluted. “Petty Officer First Class Montgomery Brick of the U.S. Navy, at your service.” The two lowlifes attempted salutes. “And may I present my sister, Miss Gwendolyn Brick.” The men nodded at Gwendolyn. Monty rested his palms on their table. “I’m going to assume that what I saw as I came to greet my sister after a six-year tour in the U.S. Navy helping to preserve peace during these troubled times wasn’t what it looked like.”

The men nodded slowly, as though hypnotized.

“Very good.” Monty straightened up. “Now, if you gentlemen have everything you need in the way of tobacco, I’d like to accompany my sister on her break.”

Monty led Gwendolyn to the bar at the rear of the Cocoanut Grove. Chuck, the bartender, held out his hands. “Give me your tray,” he said. “Your brother’s just had a word with the boss. You got yourself a double break tonight.”

As they walked through the bustling foyer of the Ambassador Hotel, Gwendolyn decided she wanted Monty all to herself. Opportunities like this came once every five or six years and she had to make the most of it, so she guided him out toward the deserted pool area. They stepped outside and looked up at the sky. The stars were sprinkled above them like crystals.

She tightened her grip on his arm and led him to the diving board. His cotton jacket smelled freshly laundered and was smooth under her hand. They sat side by side and she asked, “Why didn’t you let me know you were coming? How long can you stay?”

Monty seemed broader, thicker across the chest than when she last saw him. He even seemed taller. Navy life must really agree with him, she thought.

“Sorry for the short notice, Googie, but I was given forty minutes to pack. I’m only here for one night.”

“One night? Mo-Mo! That’s not fair!”

“No, it’s not fair,” he agreed, “it’s the navy. I’m en route to New York. The brass decided I was the best choice to head up the U.S. Navy exhibit at the World’s Fair.”

“What an honor!”

“Between you and me, it’s really a recruitment drive. That Hitler bastard is on the march. The military’s been gearing up all year.” He stared out across the pool for a moment, then snapped out of it. “At any rate, as soon as the ship docked, I hotfooted it over to your place. I knew you worked nights, but I thought that roommate of yours might tell me where you were.”

“Kathryn’s on a train convoy to Dodge City. Some sort of publicity campaign that Warner Bros. are putting on for the new Errol Flynn movie.”

“Lucky for me, some old drunk appeared and told me where you worked.”

Gwendolyn took his broad hands and sandwiched them between hers. “I’m so glad to see you. I know how much you love the navy life, but I hate not seeing you whenever I want. Ten years and I’ve never really gotten used to it.”

Monty’s face turned grim. “To be honest, I’m kinda worried about you.”

“Me?” Oh, dear God, no, Gwendolyn thought. She felt her face go pale. Surely he hadn’t seen her screen test all the way over in Guam?

“It’s probably not my place to say.”

“You’re my only living relative, which means you get to say it anyway.”

Monty hesitated, but not for long. “You’ve been hacking away at this movie-star game now for years, but really, sis, where’s it gotten you? Have you even been in one movie yet?”

Gwendolyn wasn’t sure where the conversation was heading, but she didn’t like the sound of it. “For your information, I had a screen test for David Selznick. Ever heard of him?” Monty shook his head. “He’s the guy producing a little picture called Gone with the Wind. I’m good friends with his wife, Irene. Her father is Louis B. Mayer. He runs MGM and earns more money than the president. So it’s not like I’ve been spinning wheels in the mud here.”

Monty’s handsome face softened from a frown into the hint of a smile. “A screen test for Gone with the Wind? How come you haven’t mentioned this in your letters?”

Because the screen test ended up being the most mortifying moment of my life, she thought. “I didn’t want to jinx my luck.”


Gwendolyn had grown accustomed to thinking of the moment she flashed her hoo-ha at the cameras as the three seconds that killed her Hollywood career. It wasn’t until Greta Garbo pulled some influential strings to get her a role in George Cukor’s new picture, The Women, that she’d regained traction. “I didn’t get the part, but I’m going to be in a new MGM picture.”

“Is it a big part? What’s your character like?”

Gwendolyn broke away from her brother’s gaze. “It’s just a walk-on, really. No lines or anything.” She looked back at him in time to see his smile fade into the shadows.

“Googie,” he said, “ten years and all you’ve got to show for it is a screen test and one little bitty role?”

Gwendolyn scowled. “Do you know how rare that is? One in a hundred thousand hopefuls gets a screen test. They have to be very, very impressed with you to order up one of those.”

Monty let go of her hand. After a few silent moments, he said, “Once my stint at the World’s Fair is over, they’re making me a chief petty officer.”

“That’s good, right?”

“For an enlisted guy, it’s pretty good, yeah. And they’re restationing me.”

“What does that mean?”

“They’re moving me.” Gwendolyn wanted to grab her brother’s hand and squeeze it real hard. Please say Long Beach! Please say Long Beach! “I’m being transferred to the Philippines.”

She crossed her arms to keep warm. Her uniform wasn’t made for plying the outdoor cigarette trade. “And where’s that, exactly?”

“It’s in the Far East. South of Japan.”

“Sounds exotic.”

“Subic Bay is the biggest navy installation in the Pacific. This is a big step up for me, Googie.”

“You’ve really made a good life for yourself, haven’t you?” Gwendolyn took her brother by the arm and snuggled closer. “I’m very proud of you.”

“I’ll be in New York until the end of July and go to Subic Bay right after that.” Monty stiffened his spine and cleared his throat. “Why don’t you come with me?”

“Move? To the Far East?”

“That part of the world, it’s a wonderful place to live. I know tons of guys who’ve been stationed there and they all say the same thing.”

“That’s okay for you, Monty, but my life is here. I’m building a career.” As she heard the words come out of her mouth, she knew how ridiculous they sounded. You’re twenty-nine years old, she told herself. You know very well that hitting thirty in Hollywood is like hitting sixty everywhere else. You don’t have many chances left.

Monty winced. “You’ve spent ten years selling cigarettes to drunkards and letches and all you’ve got to show for it is a screen test and a bit part. That’s no career.” He grabbed her pinkie finger and wiggled it the way he used to when they were kids back in Florida with their boozed-out mother sprawled out on the couch and nobody else to look after them. It was their way of saying You and me forever.

Don’t say it, she thought. Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it.

“Oh, Googie,” he said, “just how much longer are you going to wait for a big break that probably will never come?”


This chapter is also available to read on my website:

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