By the mid-1910s, one of the most famous and certainly the highest paid actress on the silent screen was Russian born Alla Nazimova. Metro Studios was paying her $13,000 a week–$3,000 more than Mary Pickford–along with the right to approve director, script, and leading man.
By the end of 1918, with her film career flourishing, Nazimova spent $65,000 on an imposing California Spanish home at 8152 Sunset Boulevard (then still an unpaved dirt track) on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights Blvd. She then proceeded to spend another $65,000 remodeling the interior, building
a pool and landscaping the property’s three and a half acres. She named it The Garden of Alla and it became a popular gathering spot for the Hollywood intelligentsia who would flock there for the salons in which literature, art, and theater was discussed at length. It attracted a largely lesbian following making it somewhat notorious.
By the mid-1920s however, things weren’t going so well for the dramatic actress with the violet eyes. Her films (by this point self-produced and self-financed) had largely failed and her finances were dwindling rapidly. Outside investors convinced her that her major asset–her movie star mansion–could be developed into a hotel thus providing her with a steady income. It must have seemed like a sound idea because Nazimova proceeded to spend $1.5 million (a huge sum for the mid-1920s) to add 25 two-story bungalows built throughout the grounds. The property acquired an extra “h”–renamed ‘The Garden of Allah’–and a lavish 18-hour party was thrown for the hotel’s opening on January 9th, 1927. Nine months later the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, opened in New York and ushered in the golden age of Hollywood cinema.
Unfortunately for Nazimova, the investment proved to be her financial undoing. Within a year of the opening she was bankrupt and in 1928 she sold her shares in the property. The hotel however was a huge and instant success. It attracted many people lured by Hollywood’s promise of fame and fortune and quickly became one of the places people stayed when they first arrived in Hollywood before making their way up the ladder. And, in some cases, it became the place they retreated to when their Hollywood fortunes dwindled and they could no longer afford their extravagant mortgages.
The list people who stayed at or visited the Garden of Allah Hotel & Villas is a who’s who of Hollywood.
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