Hollywood’s Garden Of Allah

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Former residents all recall the contrast between the tranquil Garden and the frightful rush of traffic just outside. Benchley took careful account of this peril whenever he wished to visit The Players, a restaurant on the other side of the Strip. Instead of risking passage across the street on foot, he is reported to have turned right, walked one block to Schwab’s drugstore, and jumped into a cab, which then made a U-turn and deposited him in front of The Players.

The increasing traffic Benchley so deftly avoided actually reflected the growth of Los Angeles into a great city in which moving pictures had become one of many major industries. Gradually, the movie people began to feel the loss of their unique importance and, along with the Second World War, there came a chill in the atmosphere of the Garden. Though the hotel had a short period of postwar prosperity, it was due more to the housing shortage than to the old magic of the place. In time, Hollywood notables stopped coming, transients from New York began to find lively new places to stay, and the Garden began to get the reputation of a beloved, but shabby, has-been. The hotel went through a series of management and ownership changes, and continued to deteriorate. By the late 1940’s, even the once-dazzling landscaping had grown drab, for heavy smog, a new and baleful element in Los Angeles, had settled over the area. The Garden stood in a natural funnel for the noxious fumes that rolled up the Strip in such concentration that they split the tiles, asphyxiated the big brown rats in the palm trees, and killed the radiant bougainvillea.

Some of the new guests seemed equally obnoxious. The harmless Hallroom Boys disappeared along with the rich movie people, and the bar was often occupied by smalltime chiselers and petty racketeers. Drunken fights broke out, and the management often had to call the police—something unheard of in happier times. In its last years the Garden seemed like a setting from a story of the Los Angeles underworld by Raymond Chandler, himself long since moved away. One could imagine his private eye, Philip Marlowe, leaving his coupé in the Garden parking lot and meeting some dubious character in the bar. Things grew still worse: one night armed thugs entered the lobby, looted the cash drawer, and shot the elderly night clerk dead.

The last owners gave up in April, 1959, announcing that they had sold the property to the Lytton Savings and Loan Association; the Garden would be razed to make way for a banking and commercial center. The furnishings were sold at auction: comedian Ben Blue bought the china and silver for his nightclub. On the night of August 22,1959, an attempt was made to hold a gala grand closing to mark the official passing of a place that had actually died some years before. Many guests dressed as old-time picture stars and tried to evoke a mood of civilized nostalgia, but on the whole it was an unfortunate affair. Only one genuine silent star stopped by—Francis X. Bushman, still a handsome, dapper man at seventy-six. He stood for a moment looking at the empty bottles floating in the pool, then shook his head, walked back to his car, and drove home.