The Pool

View of the Garden of Allah pool looking southwest
View of the Garden of Allah pool looking southeast

The Garden of Allah’s swimming pool was its most famous feature. It was legendary because of the frequency in which famous people fell in it. Among the hotel guests its odd shape was the subject of a never-ending debate. According to some, when Alla Nazimova had the pool built in 1918, she designed it in the shape of the Black Sea, in honor of her homeland, the city of Yalta on the Crimean peninsula.

If so, it was a very abstract impression of the shape of the sea – and most tellingly, there’s nothing in the design that represents the peninsula. Alla’s young lover, the cinematographer Paul Ivano, who designed the pool’s underwater lights, did not believe the design referenced the Black Sea. “It was more like an elongated figure eight,” Ivano told Sheilah Graham. There is another story that the pool was designed by Alla’s astrologer to conform to her horoscope.

What was certain is that when construction was complete, before the cement dried, Alla carved her initials, A.N., on the side, just below the watermark.
The pool was large, 65 by 45 feet, which may account for some of the falls into it. “The pool, for instance, is so situated as to be a menace to those who return late and tired from parties,” wrote Amy Porter, a frequent guest in the 1940s.”The residents are not much alarmed if along about 3 a.m. they hear the smack of a body against the water. They just turn over and go back to sleep.”

The columnist Lucius Beebe agreed. “It is conventional to fall into the pool,” he wrote. “All the best people do it. It wakes one up.”

One often-told story about the pool is that it was after dunking there one night that Robert Benchley dryly observed, “Get me out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.” That line made its way into the script of the 1937 Mae West movie, “Every Day’s a Holiday,” when Benchley’s friend, the actor Charles Butterworth, told Charles Winniger, “You ought to get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.” Benchley himself used the line in 1942 in the “Major and the Minor,” when he suggested to Ginger Rogers, “Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini.”

Tallulah Bankhead fell into the pool late one night wearing a heavily beaded evening gown. After struggling under the weight of the gown, she shucked it off, swam to the top and emerged from the water wearing nothing but diamond jewelry. “Everyone’s been dying to see my body,” she said. “Now they can see it.” Tallulah was also likely the “throaty Broadway actress” who, according to Time Magazine, answered a knock at the door of her villa wearing nothing but her pet monkey perched on her shoulder. Stunned speechless, her caller, a Western Union delivery man, handed the telegram to the monkey and fled the scene.