Author: Jon Ponder (page 1 of 14)

History of the Garden of Allah Hotel

The Garden of Alla

The Garden of Alla

‘I’ll be damned if I’ll believe anyone lives in a place called the Garden of Allah.’
– Thomas Wolfe, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, July 26, 1937

In a project for the West Hollywood History Center in conjunction with the Alla Nazimova Society, I have published a 50-plus page virtual history of the Garden of Allah Hotel. It is rigorously researched and illustrated with dozens of photos of the hotel’s founder, Alla Nazimova, the hotel grounds and its famous guests. I believe it is the most comprehensive history of the hotel available. I hope you’ll check it out.

Here’s an overview of the six sections:

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Coronet Apartments, Villa of Vice?

Hollywood madam Lee Francis and Judge Cecil D. Holland reviewing a document, 1940

One of the Sunset Strip’s most infamous legends is that the Piazza del Sol, an Italian Renaissance-style building at 8439 Sunset, was once a brothel – that the entire building was a lavish pleasure palace operated in service to Hollywood elites. I fact check the legend over at the West Hollywood History Center.

The Piazza del Sol: Out of the Ashes

Surviving scandals, arson and even murder, the future looks bright for the Piazza del Sol

Revisit the history of the Hacienda Park Apartments, its decline and destruction by fire and subsequent Phoenix-like rise from the ashes as today’s Piazza del Sol at the West Hollywood History Center.

The ‘Strange Men’ Murder

Killer and victims: From left, Billy Howard, Virginia and Henry Bolte, Paul Wharton

The infamous 1935 murder at the Hacienda Park Apartments (now known as the Piazza del Sol) of Paul Ivar, a dress designer to the stars, in a case riven with gay subtext. Read the full article at the West Hollywood History Center.

An All-American Tragedy: The Death of Wallace Reid

Picture postcard view of the back of silent-film star Wallace Reid’s home at De Longpre and Sweetzer avenues in Hacienda Park — as seen from tourist buses on Sunset

The tragic, scandalous story of all-American silent film heartthrob Wallace Reid, one of Hacienda Park’s first movie star residents. My latest at

At WEHOville: Riviera in the Foothills

Sunset Boulevard before it was the Strip, circa 1924: A. Future Wallace Reid Home Site; B. William S. Hart Home; C. Future Site of Sunset Tower; D.  N. Kings Road; E. Future Site of Andaz Hotel; F. Sunset Boulevard; G. Future Site of Piazza del Sol; H. De Longpre Avenue; I. John Barrymore Estate (Unconfirmed); J. Olive Drive

Sunset Boulevard before it was the Strip, circa 1924: A. Future Wallace Reid Home Site; B. William S. Hart Home; C. Future Site of Sunset Tower; D. N. Kings Road; E. Future Site of Andaz Hotel; F. Sunset Boulevard; G. Future Site of Piazza del Sol; H. De Longpre Avenue; I. John Barrymore Estate (Unconfirmed); J. Olive Drive

West Hollywood History Center: In 1935 the Los Angeles Times called Hacienda Park “Hollywood’s most exclusive residential section.” But even then its fame was starting to wane – and today the old neighborhood at the eastern end of the Sunset Strip has been totally forgotten.

Check out the “then and now” gif below that Twitter follower Nic Musolino created by matching the 1920 aerial shot of Hacienda Park above with the same area today via Google Earth.

And read the entire article at

Check out These Articles on the History of the Sunset Strip

La Rue Restaurant in Sunset Plaza, with Cafe Trocadero across the street, 1944

We’ll take these recent articles as signs of welcomed interest in the history of the Sunset Strip.

Two at — one about the early years and the other about the rock n’ roll era — by masterful history writer Hadley Mears:

And one by Danny Hajek at about the Sunset Strip Riots in 1966, and the writing of the protest anthem, “For What It’s Worth,” by Stephen Stills:

A Ramble Through Pink Taco with The Players Club Founder’s Son, Tom Sturges

Here’s an interesting way to spend a June afternoon on the Sunset Strip. Have lunch and a drink at the Pink Taco with Martin Turnbull, my friend, the author of The Garden of Allah novel series, and Tom Sturges, a music executive who is the son of Preston Sturges, one of the most brilliant and eccentric writers and directors in the studio era.

The location was significant. Pink Taco occupies hallowed ground in Sunset Strip history. Originally a residence built in 1926, Preston Sturges extensively (and expensively) renovated it 14 years later and then opened it as a celebrity nightspot called The Players.

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Rare Early Photo of the Players Club – Today’s Pink Taco – When It was a Residence

In the early 20th century, the eastern end of the Sunset Strip was lined with large homes, including more than a few mansions and country estates. Few of these remain today, however, but in a photo recently published by friend-of-Playground Martin Turnbull, we spotted a house that, though greatly transformed, is still standing.

The photo Martin found is published above. He wrote:

I’ve been researching and writing about the Garden of Allah Hotel for more than ten years now, so it isn’t often that a new photo surfaces—but it IS exciting! We’re looking west along Sunset Blvd from Crescent Heights Blvd. On the left we can clearly see the ‘Garden of Allah – Villas” sign—it’s actually more striking than I pictured. As Sunset curves around to the left, on the right we can see the Chateau Marmont Hotel, which went up a year or two after the Garden of Allah, and which is still around today. The license plate on the rear of the car in the right foreground is probably from 1936, so can date this photo to circa mid 1930s.

But what we noticed right away in the photo was perhaps even more exciting for Hollywood history buffs. There it is dead center: The residence that would one day be director Preston Sturges’ Players Club, and that is today the Pink Taco. Here’s a blow-up showing it more clearly:

The future Players Club — and Pink Taco — when it was a residence, circa 1936

We know a few things about the residence. It was once the home of William Morris, a well-known stage actor who was the father of Chester Morris, who was a big star who got his start playing Boston Blackie in the popular serial and went to appear opposite Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Robert Montgomery.

The house was later used as a wedding chapel, which may be its purpose around the time this photo was taken.

In 1940, it was purchased by Sturges, one of the most innovative directors in the studio era — the list of films he directed includes “The Lady Eve,” “Sullivan’s Travels,” “The Palm Beach Story” and many more. Sturges excavated the hill in front of the house — shown to the right of the structure in the photo — to create space for the parking lot. He then apparently built a ground floor under the basement of the house, which is now the main floor of the Pink Taco.

Here’s the Players Club in the late 1940s:

And here’s the Pink Taco in a recent shot:

Laverne Cummings, the Late San Francisco Cross-Dressing Performer

Last month Bay Area Reporter writer Michael Flanagan got in touch with me seeking information about a cross-dressing performance venue in West Hollywood back in the day. Specifically, he was attempting to verify the late Laverne Cummings’ story that he (as Laverne referred to himself) got his start in a club in West Hollywood owned by Mickey Cohen. Here’s an excerpt:

Paul Laverne Cummings was born in Santa Ana in 1927. In a 1977 article in the San Francisco Examiner he related how he got his start.

“When I was in high school I was in the choir,” he said. “I was always told to sing lower, but I wanted to be a soprano. After high school, some friends took me to audition at the Club Continental, a gay night club owned by Mickey Cohen.”

I contacted Jon Ponder, editor of Sunset Strip history site Playground to the Stars ( to ask about Cohen and L.A. female impersonator bars.

Ponder told me that the Continental was not gay and did not feature cross-dressing acts and it is more likely that Cummings performed at the Flamingo Club (1027 N. La Brea), which it is suspected Cohen controlled. The Flamingo Club closed in 1951, after Cummings had left for Florida.


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