Garden of Allah: Rediscovering WeHo’s Lost Oasis

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]nce upon a time, taking up the short strip of Sunset between Crescent Heights and Havenhurst, the Garden of Allah was something of an oasis. Built in the early 20th century as the home of actress Alla Nazimova, the complex was later expanded by Nazimova to include multiple villas and bungalows. Through the 1920’s through the 1950’s, a myriad of actors, performers and writers called the Garden of Allah home.

Today, it’s tough to picture the lush citrus trees and Spanish-style architecture that once shaded the complex’s swimming pool. The strip mall that stands in its stead, after the whole place was bulldozed in 1959, is indistinguishable from any other LA shopping center.

But with a little searching, a trip underground, and help from a property manager named Ulisses Acosta, it’s possible to find a hint of the past in this place at the edge of West Hollywood. Although, feeling the magic of the raucous parties of yore attended by creative geniuses? That still takes some serious imagining.

Historic Garden of Allah photos courtesy of Marc Wanamaker and the Bison Archives.

  1. I understand posting it under “Worth a Look,” but keep the original date intact, would be my suggestion. Not changing it to November 25, as though it is a new story. I know there was no malicious intent, but that is a tad misleading.

    1. Oddly, because of the vagaries of WordPress, the template for our website, the only date that shows is the date something is posted (or moved and reposted).

  2. this was interesting the first time it was posted many months ago. I don’t mind recycling stories or city nostalgia, but present it as such.
    now if they want to impress, this site would devote itself to presenting many other historical pictures and videos of old west hollywood.

    1. We repost vintage stories such as this one under “Worth a Look” because of our rapidly growing audience, which has quintupled since this was first posted. We don’t want our new readers to miss such pieces, which otherwise disappear into the internet ether. We’ll be adding much more content about historic West Hollywood soon. In the meantime, checkout Vintage Los Angeles on Facebook, created by our friend Alison Martino.

  3. And now, the bank and strip mall will be torn down and a huge apartment building with an ugly retail base that covers the entire site will be built.

  4. Hello my name is David M. I have the original model of the GOA for the last 15 years that was displayed at the great western bank, Its still in excellent condition. If anyone is interested on more information on it here is my email

  5. A friend of mine owns that scale model that @anonymous is talking about. It’s an amazing model. It is placed in his living room as “the center piece” and every time he has guest, it’s the first topic of conversation everyone wants to know its history. The scale model is in Weho!

  6. There was a scale model of the Garden of Allah in Lyton (sp?) Savings (about three feet by three feet) for years. It was covered with plexiglas and then moved to the parking lot after that bank moved on.
    And lest we forget – Pandora’s Box was a little purple nightclub in the triangle on Crescent Heights that burned down with quite a lot of drama in the 60s.

  7. Joni Mitchell was NOT writing about the Garden of Allah, according to this article: “Mitchell noted in interviews that she was inspired to write the song by a trip to Hawaii, when she looked out her hotel window at the beautiful landscape, then gazed down and saw a parking lot. This gave birth to the song’s chorus in which Mitchell repeats the cliché that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, adding, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” “

  8. the bank building with the folded roof is actually one of the outstanding mid-century modern buildings in this area–possibly Smith & Williams? similar to Don Wexler’s work in Palm Springs…so it’s unfair to dismiss the site as an anonymous “strip mall.” The area is heavily commercial and besieged with traffic…the idea that quaint cottages and gardens from the 1920s would have remained here is simply nostalgic…

  9. Dear Undocumented WeHo’an (whomever you are – these anonymous snipes are the reason WeHo News has no comments. Too uncertain of yourself to man up and ID yourself?)
    I have never, ever, even visited 5627 Fernwood Ave, in Los Angeles, let alone live there. (you still use mapquest?)
    I have been a West Hollywood resident for years, except for a recent medical sojourn.
    I keep my office in the French MarketPlace, suite 205. Come by sometime to visit sometime.
    You can consider yourself a WeHo resident if you live in Pacoima, but it doesn’t make you one. The practice of journalism is based on relating facts accurately. To say something is on the edge of WeHo while talking about it being a WeHo location implies that is sits inside WeHo. It does not. A professional journalist would have actually checked and found that out and said as much.
    This “journalist,” however, muddied the water, much as outsiders tend to do out of ignorance.

  10. Curious Mr. Gierach whether the Garden of Allah site is farther from West Hollywood than where you live? You’re at 5627 Fernwood Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028, right? According to Mapquest, that’s a lot farther away. Not that where one lives should matter, but I’ve noticed you are making a big deal about that in attacking writers for I live a block from the “official” boundary of West Hollywood (on the other side of La Brea). But I consider myself to be a resident of WeHo. Thank God the cops aren’t stopping me to check my ID before letting me in 🙂 Oh, and if you read the story carefully, it does say the site is on the edge of WeHo.

  11. Nice work, well done video, except for one fact.
    The property stands outside of West Hollywood and nowhere in the report is that fundamental fact noted.
    The USC-educated journalists (this one, too, from Echo Park) who are doing these pieces do professional jobs, but not always accurate jobs, just like the LA TV stations or national shows who don’t fact check accurately.
    Additionally, and very important if one would like to place the Gardens into a meaningful historical context, Ms. Nazimova’s sexual orientation appears to have escaped this journalist’s notice.
    At the time, in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, being lesbian or gay wasn’t the kiss of death to movie stars it is today.
    It did, however, along with the legal but frowned upon use of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and ether, contribute to the reputation that Hollywood enjoyed (and later movie moguls struggled to tamp down) as a licentious place in the minds of Middle America.
    It also made a tremendous contribution to the fundamental beginnings of West Hollywood by allowing the phenomenon of the Sunset Strip (which really doesn’t begin at the Gardens of Allah, but a couple blocks further west) to grow as speakeasy central during the prohibition, especially as compared t Hollywood’s temperance tradition.
    So, let’s applaud WEHOville for doing a nice story about Los Angeles while intending to do one about WeHo.

  12. Terrific piece of history. The owner of our building would regale us of stories about the Garden of Allah and its inhabitants. She had an acute memory of that era and also life and times at San Simeon. Too bad we don’t have a fund contributed to by every developer that erases a piece of history that we later regret, with a mandate attached to locate the original plans and rebuild. The Garden Of Allah surely would have fit in today opposite Chateau Marmont.

  13. Great story and the video really brought things to life. The only structure I like on that piece of real estate is the cool (now) Chase Bank building with the folded plates roof. Very Mid-Century Modern look that hasn’t been destroyed (yet).

  14. In the song, Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell sings “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”, referring to the tearing down of Garden of Allah to make the strip mall that the Chase bank exists on today.

    And the shopping center across the street (8000 Sunset) is where the legendary Schwab’s Pharmacy once existed.

    I love the history there. That’ Chase is actually my bank.

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