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.)
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.
Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels by Martin Turnbull
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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! 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!
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…!
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.
Thanks Marsha – I did think of YOU when I was looking at it, wondering which villa was the one you lived in!
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.
It makes me sad, too – that’s why I’m trying to ensure the spirit of the Garden of Allah continues to live through my novels. Thanks for stopping by!
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.
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.
Thanks Jennifer. As you can imagine, I POURED over that model while I had the chance!
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.
That’s so exciting Martin. What a wonderful interest you have.
Love to you both xxx
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Congrats Martin – I know just how fantastic it must have been for you! Maybe he’ll feel generous over the holidays!
Yes, it was quite a red letter day, and you KNOW I was thinking….hmmmm…where could I put this if…?
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.
Yep. When I moved to LA in 1987 I lived a few blocks east and used to go inside the bank to see the model. I had no idea that it used to be outside tho! The model was built in 1960, the year after the Garden of Allah was razed, and Pandora’s Box (previously a coffee shop) was right on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights until it was razed in 1967…so where outside was the model in those 7 years and beyond? Closer to the bank in the middle of the parking lot? How long did it remain outside? Seems odd that the model would be housed that far away from the bank itself. Let me know if you know! Thanks
Hi Gary. Before it was moved inside the bank, it sat under a large dome. You can see it on this page:
I think it was there because it never occurred to them to put it INSIDE the bank until (I’m guessing) the dome needed to be pulled down to make way for more parking.
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!
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!
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.
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!
I was familiar with the legendary Garden of Allah, but just assumed it was a single building (like the shot in Ganster Squad). I had no idea it was an entire compound! The model is very exciting to look over, but I was wondering if you had the blueprints. For me, at least, that would really make the place come back to life. With permission you could probably even publish them. With photos of the model, vintage photography, postcards, etc. that would make a really fun book.
Thanks for your note, Nelson. Yes, it was quite the place and so much more than was shown in “Gangster Squad.” I only WISH I had access to the blueprints but it’s highly unlikely they still exist. The difficulty with publishing a book of photographs about the Garden of Allah is that it’s now so long ago, establishing copyright is impossible. That’s why I went with my series of novels set at the Garden of Allah (http://www.martinturnbull.com/sample-page/) – it’s my way of recreating a very special time and place.
Wow…I just found out about this place tonight. Thanks for tracking this model down. I’ve read here and there that it might have been sold..any idea where it might be? Kinda wish the owner would take more detailed pictures of it (actually would love someone to make a 3-d model of the thing.
At any rate your work interests me. I’ll definitely pick up some of your books soon as I can!
Thanks, Zidders – I was very excited to know that it still existed and was in such good condition. It’s in the owner’s apartment in West Hollywood. I would *LOVE* someone to do a new, 3D model of it, if only for prosperity’s sake. And yes, if you find the history of this place interesting, you’ll probably enjoy my novels. Thanks for stopping by.
What a treat! I’ve been loving the Garden for years now. Found it while researching Valentino in the late 90’s. The guests and stories have always been so intriguing but, NOW I have a much better geographical image to tie them to. Thank you SO MUCH for your efforts in finding this last remaining link to such a wonderful chapter of our beloved Hollywoods rich history. Now we can try to place all of the photos out there to the correct areas. Get a life, right? Every once in a while I’ll search for Garden history or photos but, today I’ve just been BLOWN AWAY!! Thanks again.
BTW, looking forward to reading your books.
Hi Michael, and thanks for your note. Yes, it was a pretty exciting day to finally get to see that model in person. It helped put all those photos into perspective and give me a bird’s eye view of the place. These books I’m writing are my way of recreating a very special time and place that should never have been forgotten the way it has. Love live The Garden!
Thanks for sharing your photos! How wonderful would it be if some smart developer tore down that strip mall and recreated the Garden of Allah from the scale model? It certainly wouldn’t be inexpensive to live there today, but I bet there would be a long list of interested people who would be thrilled to live in such a lovely community with the added cachet of the former glory of the original famous landmark.
Oh dear Marguerite, if only wish were to make it so! I ache to see the Garden of Allah recreated before our very eyes. Alas that land is far too valuable (read: low density) to rebuild it on that same site. I suspect the closest we may get is a studio backlot recreation for the screen. (And quite honestly, I’d happily accept that facsimile!) Thanks for stopping by.
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Martin, you’re going to get tired of my posts… BUT, for nine years ending in 2004, I lived mid-block on Havenhurst Drive, roughly across the street from the stately Colonial House, longtime home to Miss Bette Davis and the latter domicile of Jodie Foster. I remember seeing the model of the Garden of Allah in the lobby of the replacement strip center’s banking concern, at the time a branch of Home Savings and Loan. Congratulations on finding that Holy Grail, still intact and appreciated. If by chance you have the opportunity to see the Frank Gehry retrospective at the LA County Museum, there’s a huge architectural model of the planned redevelopment of the former Garden of Allah site, a project extending further south along Crescent Heights that would subsume the buildings now extant. It’s a monumental mixed used proposal, as the Gehry model makes clear. With the increasing density problems hitting that area’s infrastructure, and ensuing blowback, it’s not a done deal by any means. However, it is interesting to juxtapose the latter day proposal for the site against the tranquil Garden of Allah of yesteryear.
Oh Eric! I’ll NEVER tire of anything you have to contribute. Thanks for stopping by!
I thought the model was the property of the owners of the Lytton Bank? They seem to remember it being on site, but sounds like this guy took it home without permission. It would be nice if it was returned as I’m sure Frank Gehry and his architect assistants could incorporate it into the new 8150 project. It should be enjoyed by everyone, not just some guy in his basement.
Benzie – David told me that at the time, the people at the bank were about to throw it out so he asked if he could have it. He didn’t know what it was but he thought it looked interesting. They said “Sure.” so he took it home and cleaned and restored it. I’d love it if if somehow found its way back to the original site!
Some Wodehouse scholars believe that The Garden of Allah real life model for The Garden of the Hesperides in the P. G. Wodehouse Hollywood novel, “Laughing Gas.” The Garden of the Hesperides was the temporary abode of the Third Earl of Havershot in that book. I believe Wodehouse was there at least once, talking with Robert Benchley, who told him about “yes-men” and “vice-yessers” and nodders. I’ve lost the reference. If you find anything about Wodehouse and the GoA, would you please post it. Thank you.
Hello Felicia. This is the first I’ve heard of Wodehouse being at the Garden of Allah, and of the theory that he used it as the model for The Garden of the Hesperides in “Laughing Gas.” I haven’t read that novel since I started researching and writing about the Garden of Allah, so now I’m tempted to re-read it and see if I can find any parallels.
Oh to be a fly on the walls of the ‘Garden of Allah’ back in the day, with its fascinating history of Hollywood hedonism, I’ve read about it in books for years down In Australia so cheers for this Geeup of information.
Thanks for reading, John. In a way, you could say that my 9-book series set at the Garden of Allah is my way of imagining what it would be like to be that fly on the wall.
Holy Grail INDEED! This made my night/year/life. Thank you for your time and efforts!
I must know – are the villas/bungalows numbered in this model? I zoomed in, but couldn’t tell for sure (didn’t look like it, though). I know that Nazimova was living in 24, so I’m beyond curious which one that is!! The only other info I found was that it was on the second story overlooking the pool. Any thoughts?
Hi Marisa, I don’t recall the villas being numbered. You’re right though: in 1939 when Alla moved back to the Garden, she took villa 24. In his “Nazimova” biography, Gavin Lambert said that with some of her earnings from “Escape,” Nazimova built a sundeck on the roof of the Garden of Allah apartment below Villa 24. She told her sister, Nina: “I bought a few plants, even a lemon and a lime tree and 3 oleanders, put in a swinging could, a couple of chairs there and sit there, read, have tea and even write.” She told her diary what a good lookout point it was: “From 2 to 5 a girl in a brassiere and short panties was taking a sunbath on the lawn here.”
PS – I love your profile photo!
I have read Lambert’s biography, but it was years ago – I’m planning on revisiting it soon! That’s a wonderful little gem that may help me discover which corner of the garden was her home.
P.S. You may see me regularly on the blog, FB page, etc. as I’m doing research for a screenplay that I’m developing. Your work has been monumentally helpful!
I am a model maker and I really wish he would remove those tacky out of scale and non period cars. That don’t compare in craftsmanship and ruin the effect of that otherwise beautiful model.
Yes! Too big and too new.
My name is John Shannon, also an author of L.A. social history mysteries–though mine are contemporary (The Jack Liffey series) and I thank you for all your diligent research and the opportunity to see the Garden of Allah model once again. In the 1970s (and I think 1980s) I took European friends to see it often on unofficial noir tours of L.A. And I lived for a while in 1970 up Laurel Canyon on Lookout Mountain Road–well up the street from Joni Mitchell. At the time, the model was not inside the savings and loan but in a dingy dusty kiosk on, I believe, a small plot of grass at the corner of the parking lot at Sunset and CH. It was filthy inside and somehow people had forced small notes inside the glass, probably of the “I will always love you, Alla” sort. I think the model was visible through glass on only one side, and the glass was always streaky and grimy. If you know of a photo of the kiosk/shrine, please let me know. I have to admit that I find the model (because of its obscurity and utter lack of glamour) more interesting than the hotel itself.
Hi John, and thanks for stopping by,
I envy you that you got to see the model in its “natural habitat” so to speak. I’m wondering if this is how you saw it. This photo was taken in November 1962. I’m not sure how long it stayed there before it was moved inside the bank building but this is how the model that Bart Lytton commissioned was displayed in the first few years after demolition of the Garden of Allah.
All the best, Martin Turnbull
So cool thx
Martin, circa 99, my friend, your then neighbor, Mitchell K. I called him and asked what he knew of Allah so he borrowed one of your books and ran it up to me because while at (former Allah site) a hair appt. with David he told me of having the Allah Model and showed me pics of it. When did you finally find it?
Hi Jody, I tracked David down some time during the summer of 2013 and went to visit him and the model in early October. He’s done a remarkable job of preserving it!
The Monkeemobile is a nice touch… 🙂
Can you superimpose the out lines of individual apartments on the joined units? I’m recreating everything in my head (assuming one fireplace to a customer), and what units had backdoors, etc.