1918: Tremendously Happy

Alla Nazimova

In 1918, Alla Nazimova, the famed Broadway actress, was lured to Hollywood by Metro Pictures, one of the studios that later became MGM. A few years earlier, Nazimova had had such a successful run on Broadway for the Shubert Organization — sales of tickets to her sold-out performances had generated $4 million ($400 million today) in revenue over three years–that the Shuberts named one of their Broadway houses “the Alla Nazimova 39th Street Theatre.” So it was not surprising that under her contract with Metro, Nazimova became the highest paid actress in Hollywood, receiving a weekly salary of $13,000 a week, equivalent to $20,500 today.

Nazimova chose as her home, Hayvenhurst, a luxurious estate that occupied 2.5 park-like acres at 8152 Sunset Blvd. [map showing approximate location], at what is today the eastern border of the Sunset Strip. At the time, it was so remote that the Sunset Boulevard trolley from Hollywood made its last stop where the pavement ended, just at the estate’s northeastern corner. The extension of Sunset Boulevard west toward Beverly Hills was a gravel road.

Today, the property stands at the eastern gateway to the Sunset Strip, and the neighborhoods around it are some of the most densely populated in the West. Then, however, the area was quite rustic, its rolling hills covered in melon farms, poinsettias fields and avocado and orange groves.

Nazimova leased the estate from real-estate developer, William H. Hay, who had built it as his private residence in 1913 only to vacate it for an even larger house down the street a few years later. Immediately after she moved in, Nazimova commissioned what would become its defining feature: a swimming pool, 65 feet by 45 feet. After living in the estate for a year, Nazimova purchased it outright for $65,000, which would be just $1 million today–a steal, it seems–perhaps because the remote house had been on the market for a while.

1 Comment

  1. A fascinating time travel machine is this website. Especially appreciate the photographs of Los Angeles area and its denizens from the early days. What a beautifully bucolic place. A simpler, quieter time where the speed of a horse-drawn wagon or carriage determined the pace of life.

    About the numbers:

    Re: “A few years earlier, Nazimova had had such a successful run on Broadway for the Shubert Organization (…) sales of tickets to her sold-out performances had generated $4 million ($400 million today) in revenue over three years…”

    Per Bureau of Labor Statistics, the purchasing power of US$1.00 in 1913 would equal US$24 in 2015. Thus, $4 million in 1913 would be the equivalent of $96 million in today’s dollars.

    Re: Nazimova became the highest paid actress in Hollywood, receiving a weekly salary of $13,000 a week, equivalent to $20,500 today.

    Using BLS valuations (US$1.00 (1918) = $US16.00 (2015) , a weekly salary of $13,000 would be the equal of $208,000 in 2015, an immense sum.

    Re: “After living in the estate (Hayvenhurst) for a year, Nazimova purchased it outright for $65,000, which would be just $1 million today–a steal, it seems–perhaps because the remote house had been on the market for a while.”

    The $1 million estimate is spot on. Using BLS 1918 valuations ($1 then = $16 now), $65,000 then would have the purchasing power of $1,040,000 today. (With 2.5 acres, too. Bargain!) .

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