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.)

Garden of Allah Hotel scale modelGarden of Allah Hotel scale modelGarden of Allah Hotel scale model   Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model Garden of Allah Hotel scale model

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.

~~~oOo~~~

The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull

About martinturnbull

The "Garden of Allah novels" blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author writing about the golden era of Hollywood in his series of novels set at the Garden of Allah hotel which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at www.martinturnbull.com and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Cat Robson says:

    Fabulous! I can relate completely to your passion. I’m still hunting for a blueprint/model of the Mocambo. My collection of ephemera grows, but to have the site fleshed out, like you now have, would be so helpful as I write my own novel about the club.

    All the best, Martin!

    Cat Robson
    http://themocamboaffair.wix.com/themocamboaffair

    • Cat! How delightful to hear from you! Yes, as you can well imagine, it was a very exciting day in Martin-Turnbull-land.

      Seeing the model was a huge help in letting me visualize the whole Garden of Allah complex better than I ever have before.

      Keep searching – if I can track down the Garden of Allah model, you can find those blueprints!

  2. That thud you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor. Congratulations dear friend! And please, please give my unending thanks to the owner for being such a faithful steward of history and a first class, grade A mensch.

    • Thanks Philip. I was SO pleased and So relieved to see what incredible shape it was in. I got the impression that the guy didn’t really know what he had when he acquired it. He just thought it was cool. It wasn’t until later, when he started to research it, that he realized what a special artifact he has. Well, special to people like you and me, anyway…!

  3. OOOh. Awesome. The last time I saw the model it was outside the bank in a glass case. I remember than as now looking directly for the the section that our patio, 1 bedroom apartment was and where my bicycle was parked. I love this. Thank you for posting a part of my childhood.

  4. sepiastories says:

    SO very cool! It makes me so sad that I can’t see the Garden for real. I always get sad when I see beautiful old buildings torn down.

  5. So cool! I too read the Sheila Graham book long long ago, and all I can really remember about it is how Robert Benchley would sit and drink and laugh about the birds outside. Thanks to the owner for letting us all get a peek. I’ve never been to California, but the Garden of Allah would have been one of those sites I’d like to see.

    • Thanks Susan. It’s an awful shame that the Garden of Allah didn’t survive the way its neighbor, the Chateau Marmont, did. They both have equally rich histories. But what I’m trying to do with my books is keep the memory and spirit of the Garden of Allah alive and finding this model has been a huge help.

  6. Jennifer Myers says:

    Wow, that is just awesome! I’m so happy for you Martin, as I’m sure seeing the model will help you with certain details, while writing your novels. It was quite an impressive hotel. I assumed it was smaller. I’m happy that you never gave up on your search.

  7. Kyle Hall says:

    Big congrats on getting to see and to document this model. Wish you’d disclosed why and how that fellow came to have it (the auction?), but I presume you’re protecting his privacy. … I love it when a quest pays off. My own would be to locate the actual New Moon from THE LONG, LONG TRAILER, but I expect it was scrapped decades ago.

    • I wasn’t sure how the guy felt about me broadcasting his details over the internet so I tried to word my post so that there was enough details for fans to know what happened without blabbing too much personal stuff.

  8. Jacqui Turnbull says:

    That’s so exciting Martin. What a wonderful interest you have.

    Love to you both xxx

       
    Tel: 03 5472 3630.
    56 Bowden Street, Castlemaine, Vic, 3450

  9. Dave says:

    Congrats Martin – I know just how fantastic it must have been for you! Maybe he’ll feel generous over the holidays! ;)

  10. Corey says:

    Wonderful article. The model was originally in an outdoor glass case under a sort of dome at the very corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. I remember looking at it there as a child but don’t recall that it was moved inside the Lytton Savings bank on the corner. Did you know the bank had its own theatre in an attached building that featured live shows and exhibitions? I remember an exhibition showing the props for “Fantastic Voyage” and a “Cat in The Hat” live performance. Lytton had some sort of vision for his bank as a local cultural center.

  11. Patrick Reilly says:

    This is fantastic and serendipitous. I’ve wanted to see what the Garden of Allah looked like ever since I was a kid and read about Harpo Marx living there. This really gives me a feeling for what it must have been like.

    • Thanks for your note, Patrick. Ain’t like like that sometimes – you hear about something for the first time and that same thing starts popping up on your life. I’m glad that you enjoyed this post – it sure was a thrill to see it for myself!

  12. Kenneth Braasch says:

    With Hollywood tour book in hand, back in the early ’90s, I made my way to the ugly strip mall that replaced such an amazing and historic enclave. I hit the bank lobby and was so thrilled to see this model. It was tired-looking, but sure gave me the sense of what it must have been like to live there, back in the day. Thank you for sharing the photos of the model all spiffed up. It’s a sight to behold. I remember my neighbor, back in the mid-90s (in Sunnyvale, CA), had a large “Garden of Allah” sign that a relative of his got, when they were taking the place down. I remember he wanted $900 for it, and I couldn’t afford to buy it at the time. I hope it ended up in safe hands.

    • Wow, what a shame that your neighbor’s sign was out of your price range. I wish you had it now! And you’ll be pleased to know that the dingy model you saw in the 90s is now in much healthier condition!

  13. Elaine Komorowski says:

    So Fantastic! Thank you, Martin, for keeping the spirit of this marvelous place alive through your books (LOVE! LOVE!) and your postings. I only hope that netflix or showtime scoops up your novels and treats the world to the adventures of Marcus, Kathryn and Gwendolyn and their stellar neighbors at the Garden.

    • Hi Elaine,

      Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for reading my books, and for your enthusiasm. I think the Garden of Allah is a long-lost treasure which needs to be remembered better than it has been, so that’s what I’m doing, one martini at a time!

      And as for Netflix and Showtime scooping up my work…put it on your wish list – it’s sure as heck on mine!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s