Only known photograph of the Garden of Alla under construction, c. 1926
Only known photograph of the Garden of Alla under construction, c 1926 (Female figure at center is likely Jean Adams)

Jean Adams Takes over

With Charles out of the picture, in May 1924 Nazimova hired a business manager. Jean Adams came with the recommendation of a friend, and it seemed to be a good decision at first. Jean became a warm and sympathetic friend. And she produced results. She made deals for product endorsements. Nazimova posed for magazine ads for Lux Toilet Soap and Lucky Strike cigarettes, among others.

There was a hopeful sign late in 1924 when the producer-director Edwin Carewe signed Alla to a short-term contract. At $25,000 per picture, the salary was considerably less than the $65,000 per film she’d made at Metro – but it was thousands more than she was making from vaudeville.

Nazimova in publicity shot for 'Madonna of the Streets," 1924
Nazimova in publicity shot for ‘Madonna of the Streets,” 1924

Alla played the leads in three films: “Madonna of the Streets,” based on the book, The Ragged Messenger, by W.B. Maxwell, in which she played a young gold digger who marries a minister who inherits a fortune; “Redeeming Sin,” a pot boiler in which she played Joan, an apache dancer who falls in love with a wealthy sculptor who’s carving a bejeweled Madonna for a church; and “My Son,” playing opposite Hollywood royalty, Jack Pickford, the brother of Mary Pickford, as well as Constance Bennett, a star on the rise.

With “My Son,” the second act in Alla’s career – her post-Broadway forary into film – came to an end. She’d return to Broadway for a third act, and back to Hollywood after 15 years for a fourth act. But she would never again play a lead on film.

Jean Adams leased Hayvenhurst twice that year, first to Alla’s friend, Joe Schenck, then the president of United Artists, and in June, to British actress Beatrice Lillie. She was appearing in her first American film, “Exit Smiling.”

Later that month Jean offered Nazimova a business proposal. Her idea was to convert Hayvenhurst into a hotel. She proposed signing a 99-year lease on the property with Alla. In exchange, Jean would guarantee an annual payment of $14,500 plus 50 percent of the hotel’s profits. The conversion would cost $1.5 million (about $20 million today).

Her plan was to reconfigure the house into a residential hotel. The main building would be reconfigured to house the hotel lobby, check-in desk, bar, kitchen and dining room, with guest suites upstairs. She would also construct 25 bungalows around the pool. Alla’s new house at 1438 Havenhurst, built just one year earlier, would have to come down.

It was the only offer Alla had received, so she accepted it. But, over-tired from work and stress, she fell ill. In fact, she was still debilitated on August 1, 1926,when the wrecking crews arrived.

Joy Afoot

In January 1927, Jean Adams threw a lavish opening party for the Garden of Alla Hotel. Nazimova had been on tour but routed her trip through Los Angeles to be there in early January for the opening. Here’s an account of the party, written 30 years afterward by a writer for Los Angeles Times, who remembered it as a “merry marathon”:

There was joy afoot, caviar at hand and bubbles in the air — for 18 hours. By midnight, the waiters were harmonizing with the guests and wandering troubadours played madrigals from the middle of the pool.

It was climax piled on climax, including a virtual state dinner at which the mistress of the Garden of Allah, Yalta-born Alla Nazimova, dedicated the plush three-acre plot.

Leaving it all in Adams’ hands, Nazimova completed her tour and returned to New York to resurrect her Broadway career.

Over the course of the hotel’s first 16 months in business, from January 1927 to April 1928, the Garden was the subject of more than 30 mentions in the Times society columns. On February 13, for example, in the paper’s “Society of Cinemaland” column, there was a blurb about a woman named Beulah Livingston of New York who would be hosting an “’at home’ for her many Cinemaland friends at the Garden of Alla.” She had invited more than one-hundred people to a tea served in the hotel’s dining room, lounge and pergola.

The guest list, published in full, included a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood names – Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Adela Rogers St. John, Fanny Brice, Lillian Gish, Gilbert Roland, Richard Barthlemess, Ronald Colman, Frances Marion and Fred Thompson, Myron Selznick, Samuel Goldwyn, and the Talmadge party — Constance Talmadge and her sisters, sister Natalie, with husband, Buster Keaton, and Norma, with husband, Joe Schenck.

Also on the list were Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They were in town for Scott’s first foray into screenwriting. He would return a decade later and live in Villa 1 at the Garden of Allah.

Another article that same day listed “prominent personages now at the Garden of Alla.” Interestingly, most were not movie people. Lady Manners and Iris Tree were still there, along with Miss Elinor Patterson, daughter of Chicago Tribune publisher, James Medill Patterson; Mme. Elizabeth Schirmer, whose husband composed the music for the play “The Miracle,” the play in which Manners and Tree were appearing; polo players Tommy Hitchcock and William Tevis; and Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Barber.

In April, Jean Adams ran another ad – “Special Summer Rates in Effect Until June 1st” – with more flowery copy:

Plan to sojourn this Summer at the Southland’s most unique and extraordinary residential hotel and villas. In the heart of the Motion Picture Capitol. Wonderful luncheons and dinners. Magnificent Swimming Pool. Bridge, Horseback Riding, Golf Privileges.

In May, a blurb in the Times’ “News of the Cafés” column addressed confusion about the Garden of Alla’s restaurant. “There seems to be prevalent an erroneous impression,” read the item, “to the effect that the dining room of the new Garden of Alla Hotel … is conducted for the benefit of guests of the hotel only. Nothing could be farther from the fact.” The restaurant, the operators said, offered a cuisine on par with top establishments in New York and Paris.