Alison Martino from the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page recently contacted me to say that she had been gifted with two pieces of memorabilia connected to the Garden of Allah Hotel and wondered if I had ever seen anything like this before.
No! I hadn’t! Nor had I even heard that such things took place there. Given the Garden of Allah Hotel’s rather louche (and earned) reputation for wild parties, bootleg liquor, and loose morals, the fact that “Literary Luncheons” and “Drawing Room Afternoons” and bridge parties were held there fairly boggles my mind.
Fortunately, we can date these programs. They carry advertisements for the Carthay Circle and Grauman’s Chinese theaters. Sunrise opened in September 1927, The Gaucho in November 1927, and The Circus in January 1928, so I think we can assume this comes from very late 1927/early 1928, by which time the hotel was open (it opened on January 9th, 1927) but still operating as “The Garden of Alla” before the “h” at the end of “Allah” was added.
My guess is that it was a way to bring respectable ladies into the place, perhaps to continue Alla Nazimova‘s tradition of the salons she used to hold, a la Gertrude Stein. They would also have encouraged Angelenos to think of the hotel as being more than just somewhere to rest your weary head.
I especially love the page advertising a “Round Table Discussion under the direction of Margaret Campbell – Conversationalist, Poet, Actress.” I’ve never come across anyone who listed “Conversationalist” as a profession, so I was a bit dubious about Ms. Campbell’s qualifications. However, I ought not have been so skeptical. She was, indeed, an actress with 25 film credits on her IMDB page.
To learn more about these high-brow gatherings, I contacted Jon Ponder from Playground to the Stars. He has researched the Garden of Allah Hotel as much as I have – possibly even more – so I figured he might be able to shed some light on this terrific find. He came back with three articles from the Los Angeles Times dated around the same time as these programs.
From the Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1927
Garden of Alla Group Instructed in Bridge
Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1927:
Bridge Trees Popular
And also from the Los Angeles Times, November 18, 1927
Bridge Dinner at the Garden of Allah
When I read these articles, I am rather astounded by the depth of detail about exactly who turned up, where they were from, who hosted, what was served, and the general atmosphere enjoyed that afternoon.
It’s an interesting insight into the Garden of Allah Hotel that, even after 10 years of research, I had never suspected even existed. It makes me wonder what other secrets lay buried under the weight of history.
This photo of three women waiting under the Garden of Allah Hotel sign facing Sunset Blvd was taken in 1932. (I’ve had it colorized to give a more immediate feel of what it was like to actually be there.) Somehow, I doubt these three girls were the Literary Luncheon/Bridge Club type. The gal on the left and the one in the middle have both kicked off their shoes! In public!
I have a feeling that professional conversationalist Margaret Campbell would not have approved . . . but am fairly sure Alla Nazimova would think it perfectly fine. She was, after all, never one to follow the rules.
Alla Nazimova as Mahlee in “The Red Lantern” (1919)
Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull
- Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
- Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
- Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
- Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
- Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
- Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
- Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
- Book 8 – City of Myths
- Book 9 – Closing Credits
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