The hotel’s tiny, dark bar was replaced with a larger, noisier and more modern room
The hotel’s tiny, dark bar was replaced with a larger, noisier and more modern room

Frank Ehrhart

The buyer was Frank Ehrhart. He’d been the general manager of Mocambo, an A-list nightclub nearby on the Sunset Strip, and was a familiar face on the Hollywood scene. Ehrhart brought in William Door, another familiar face on the Sunset Strip, who was charged with running day-to-day operations.

Door was the owner of record (meaning he was likely a front for underworld interests) of the building at 8572 Sunset on the Strip that housed two popular nightspots, the Crescendo, a jazz club that booked top artists like Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie – and the Interlude, a comedy club where young comics like Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce and Redd Fox performed. What Ehrhart didn’t know was that Bill Door also had a secret illegal side hustle distributing risqué records and pornographic publications.

Ehrhart followed through on the previous owners’ plans to double the number of villas. He rebuilt the 25 bungalows and reconfigured them into 50 units. He also upgraded the guest rooms in the main house by adding new paneling and replacing the carpet and appliances. He revamped the main building’s front entrance and made further upgrades to the restaurant by taking down a wall and building an open kitchen in all brick. He replaced the cramped, tiny bar with a much larger space fronted by a glass slider that opened onto the pool area. Outside he removed a ping-pong table that was popular with the guests, redid the landscaping and added colored lighting around the pool.

Ehrhart knew something about selling drinks, and the bar was soon doing big business. But while it generated more revenue than ever before, instead of drawing the high-end patrons as it might have done in the past, the bar’s happy hour attracted what Sheilah Graham referred to as “bums and deviates.”

The Garden had become a sort of caricature of itself. Eventually it became a bit of a flea bag – a place where hookers met their johns. Harold Ross, one-time editor of “The New Yorker,” labeled the Garden, “a pesthole of pettifogging vaudeville actors and fallen women.”

“All the hookers in town were there,” recalled sportswriter Whitney Tower, Sonny Whitney’s nephew. “It had a steel combo band. The bloody noise was awful until three in the morning. It was the kind of place where you would not want to stay for more than one night.”

At some point after Murphy and Lee sold their minority share to Frank Ehrhart, Sonny Whitney sold the rest, presumably also to Ehrhart. There’s nothing in the record about when this happened, but Whitney Tower told Sheilah Graham that his uncle had cashed out on his investment in the Garden before it hit bottom.