I added this comment on the site:
Thanks, Brian. It would be great if we could put the Joni Mitchell rumor to rest once and for all. Also, there is no evidence that the pool was shaped like the Black Sea or that Nazimova meant to depict the Black Sea when she designed it in 1918. Photos clearly show that there was no reference to the Black Sea’s most distinctive feature, the Crimean Peninsula, which is where Alla was born, in Yalta, in 1879. That said, this debate has been going on for 80 years and will probably never be settled.
The tiles were probably from the interior (maybe from a bathroom or kitchenette) of one of the villas, which were bulldozed when the Garden was razed by Lytton Savings in 1959. Much of the exotic tropical landscaping and other debris was dumped into the pool, which was filled and entombed under the massive concrete slab of the parking lot that is there now.
By the way, next year will mark the centennial of the estate that became the Garden of Allah hotel. Originally named Hayvenhurst, it was built for $30,000 in 1913 by William H. Hay, developer of the Crescent Heights neighborhood, which was bounded by Sunset and Santa Monica blvds, to the north and south, Fairfax (then called Crescent Ave.) to the east and Havenhurst (originally spelled “Hayvenhurst”) to the west. Hay and his second wife lived in Hayvenhurst briefly before building an even grander home down the street (where the Directors Guild building is now) and then finally retiring to a large house at 4400 Havenhurst Drive in Encino, another neighborhood Hay owned and developed.
After the Hays moved out, Hayvenhurst stood empty for a few years before Alla Nazimova acquired it, including during World War I, when the Hays allowed the Red Cross to use it as its Westside headquarters.
Nazimova was a Broadway superstar when she leased Hayvenhurst in November 1917 not long after she signed her contract with Metro Pictures. She purchased it outright for $65,000 in August 1918. She changed the name to “the Garden of Alla” as a joke. She went broke in the mid-1920s and converted the estate into a hotel by adding the villas and creating a campus of apartments. Unfortunately, her partners, Jean and John Adams, were grifters whose shenanigans drove her to the brink of bankruptcy. She finally sold the estate back to William Hay, who then sold it to a professional hotel management group (who added the “h” to Garden of Allah) that operated it through much of its heyday in the 1930s.
Humphrey Bogart lived there twice, including during his courtship of Lauren Bacall. Ronald Reagan lived there after his marriage to Jane Wyman collapsed. This is a historical irony because Alla Nazimova was the godmother of Nancy Reagan, whose mother Edith Luckett, later Edith Davis, was Alla’s lifelong best friend.
Finally, if you’re interested in the Garden of Alla, check out the novels set there in the hotel’s heyday, “The Garden on Sunset” and “The Trouble with Scarlett,” by Martin Turnbull.
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