Inside the Hotel Where Hollywood’s A-List Felt Safe to Misbehave

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Por: Nicolas Lobatón González

Inside the Hotel Where Hollywood’s A-List Felt Safe to Misbehave

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Garden of Allah Hotel was where Marlene Dietrich allegedly skinny-dipped, and where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall began an affair.

In 1927, 22-year-old silent film star Clara Bow would tell her protective father she was going to Joan Crawford’s house, then she would drive to the USC campus to pick up her friends on the football team and take them to the secret room she maintained at the Garden of Allah hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Once there, they would party the night away before taking a sunrise dip in the pool.

In 1949, when Ronald Reagan’s first marriage was heading towards divorce, the future president moved into the hotel, where his lifestyle of drinking, partying, and getting lucky with the ladies once led him to comment that he couldn’t always remember his overnight guests’ names.

In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe and her crew of fellow starlets decamped to the favored hotel haunt to spend long nights on the dance floor drinking, smoking, and enjoying the fruits of celebrity.

The Garden of Allah was the spot to be for anyone who was anyone in Hollywood from the turn of the 1930s through the late 1950s.

From its grand opening in 1929 until the farewell rager was thrown in 1959, the Garden of Allah was a refuge for celebrities who wanted to fully embrace the wild bohemian lifestyle of the rich and famous as well as those on the run from a home life on the skids; it was the keeper of Hollywood’s secrets and the site of some of its largest deals; and it was the master of ceremonies for all kinds of bad behavior.

“Nothing interrupted the continual tumult that was life at the Garden of Allah,” writer Lucius Beebe, a Garden resident, once said. “Now and then the men in white came with a van and took somebody away, or bankruptcy or divorce or even jail claimed a participant in its strictly unstately sarabands. Nobody paid any mind.”

The party started at the end of the 1910s when actress Alla Nazimova treated herself to a $60,000, two-and-a-half-acre estate on one end of what would become the famous Sunset Boulevard. Originally named Hayvenhurst, the home was built in 1913 as the private residence of real estate developer William H. Hay.

Nazimova decided to put her own touch on the property and filled the grounds with flowers in addition to commissioning the construction of the largest pool the city had ever seen. It was also the most interesting. In an ode to the star’s Crimean roots, the pool was shaped like the Black Sea.

Nazimova loved her new estate with its flower-filled gardens and Spanish house that, in a foreshadowing of the role it would soon play in Hollywood, was the perfect setting for her liaisons with female lovers.

But as the 1920s got underway, Nazimova started to suffer from financial difficulties. She turned her home into a hotel, built 25 bungalows around the pool, and sold the property to a new owner with one condition: she would be allowed to live out the rest of her life there. (She did just that, staying at the Garden of Allah until she died of cancer in 1945.)

Dick Stagg instructing Terry Miller, 7 at the Garden of Allah Hotel's pool.

On January 9, 1927, Clara Bow accompanied the actor Gilbert Roland to the Garden of Allah's grand opening party. Nazimova's estate had come to be known as the Garden of Alla, named after both herself and a popular 1905 novel by Robert Hitchens that was turned into a movie staring Marlene Dietrich in 1936. The "h" was eventually tacked on to the end after it came under new ownership.

By all accounts, the hotel wasn’t the picture of gilded luxury that we imagine wealthy A-listers ensconced in today. Even before it began to show the wear and tear of being the chosen late-night party spot for decades, it was known for its thin walls, ordinary decor, and subpar dining experience. But oh, the parties guests and residents threw there.

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