Once an Oasis
None of the improvements helped revived the hotel’s glory days. Its days as a hotspot were a distant memory. In the spring of 1957, Frank Ehrhart sold the hotel to Morris Markowitz, a real-estate developer, and Isodore Rosenus, a clothing manufacturer turned investor who’d made a small fortune in oil. They bought the hotel for $500,000. But five months later Isodore Rosenus died. After his estate was settled in the spring of 1958, Rosenus’ widow and Morris Markowiktz put the Garden of Allah up for sale.
They quickly found a buyer. On April 11, 1959, the Times reported that the Garden had been sold to Bart Lytton, CEO of Lytton Savings and Loan in Calabasas. The purchase price was $775,000.
Lytton told the Times that he planned to relocate his S&L’s headquarters from the suburbs to the Garden of Allah site. This meant he would raze the hotel and replace it with a modern bank building. The hotel’s parking lot in the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights would be transformed into a plaza and park. An office tower and low-rise row of ground level shops and offices would come later.
Time Magazine reported on the hotel’s closing in its July 27, 1959, issue. “Everyone lived at the Garden of Allah Hotel,” the article said, “everyone, that is, who was part of the Hollywood elite in the old days when the town still managed to be wacky in the grand manner.”
It was known for the hard partying ways of its inmates. “Through the late, intoxicated ’20s and ’30s, the Garden was more house party than hotel,” according to Time. “Robert Benchley was resident clown; John Barrymore kept a bicycle there so as not to waste drinking time walking between the separate celebrations in the sprawling, movie-Spanish villas. Woollcott, Hemingway, Brice, Olivier, Welles, Bogart, Dietrich all lived at the Garden during its green years.”
For a story in the LA Times in June, a headline writer waxed poetic: “Garden of Allah, Once an Oasis, to Face Kismet.” The story recalled the opening party for the hotel in January 1927. “There was joy afoot, caviar at hand and bubbles in the air — for 18 hours,” it said, “By midnight, the waiters were harmonizing with the guests and wandering troubadours played madrigals from the middle of the pool.”
The Party to End All Parties
It appears that the Times article inspired Morris Markowitz and Bart Lytton. They soon announced plans to host a farewell party for the Garden to rival the opening party in 1927. They planned a lavish affair. There would be several bars and food stations around the pool to serve the guests, and old movies would be projected against a blank wall overlooking the pool. About 350 people were invited, and all were asked to come in costume as celebrities from the hotel’s early era. The budget for the party was $75,000, which would be more than $600,000 today.
The event got underway just after dark. Instead of 350 people, more than 1,000 came. Soon the pool area was crowded with Rudolph Valentinos, Clara Bows, Charlie Chaplins and Mae Wests. There was also at least one Alla Nazimova.
Notably absent, however, were any famous former guests. F. Scott Fitzgerald had died 19 years earlier. Nazimova had been gone 14 years. Humphrey Bogart had died two years earlier. Ava Gardner was filming “On the Beach,” with Gregory Peck. Frank Sinatra had released the album “Come Dance with Me!” and was riding the wave of a midlife career resurgence. Ginger Rogers was making guest appearances on television. The Marx Brothers had disbanded, and Groucho was hosting the game show, “You Bet Your Life.” Errol Flynn would be dead in less than two months. Ronald Reagan was hosting “General Electric Theater” on television and would soon be entering politics.
One former hotel guest who was on hand that night was the writer Sheilah Graham. She recalled that “most of the guests were shapely starlets, young male feature players and middle-aged executives. … Most of the starlets were scantily dressed, hoping to catch a producer’s roving eye.”
As a tribute to the founder, Nazimova’s silent film “Salome” was projected onto the side of a building. Only a few people stopped to watch. The rest were too busy socializing, crowded elbow to elbow on the patio around the pool. Soon enough someone fell or was pushed into the pool. Others followed. The crowd succumbed to a fit of hilarity. Nazimova’s giant image flickered above it all, as if her spirit hovered over the festivities one last time.
Around midnight, the hotel staff packed up what was left of the liquor and food and began turning off the lights. The party was over. A few hours later, all that was remained of the party was empty liquor bottles floating in the pool.
“The Garden of Allah did not go out with a whimper,” Sheilah Graham wrote. “It had a last bang. It had opened with a party, and it ended with one. It was fitting. It had been a nonstop party from start to finish.”
Video of the auction: The Public Auction on these premises — Garden of Allah, Sunday Aug. 30 at 10:30 a.m. — sales conducted by David Weisz Co. 840 San Julian, L.A. — Entire hotel, restaurant, cocktail lounge, furniture, fixtures and equipment.
Everything Must Go
On the day after the party, the hotel’s fittings and furnishings were auctioned off. The most popular item was a bed that allegedly had belonged to Errol Flynn. In fact, some reports say Flynn’s bed was sold several times that day.
Two months later, the 1913 main house was gone, as were the villas. The landscaping, including the cypresses, pepperwoods and other trees, had been cleared. The swimming pool had been drained and then filled with debris and dirt.
All traces of William and Katherine Hay’s Hayvenhurst estate, the home Nazimova called “the Garden of Alla” and the world-famous Garden of Allah Hotel had been broken into bits and carted away.