Society of Cinemaland
In January 1927, Jean Adams threw a lavish opening party for the Garden of Alla Hotel. Nazimova had been on tour but routed her trip through Los Angeles to be there in early January for the opening. Here’s an account of the party, written 30 years afterward by a writer for Los Angeles Times, who remembered it as a “merry marathon”:
There was joy afoot, caviar at hand and bubbles in the air — for 18 hours. By midnight, the waiters were harmonizing with the guests and wandering troubadours played madrigals from the middle of the pool.
It was climax piled on climax, including a virtual state dinner at which the mistress of the Garden of Allah, Yalta-born Alla Nazimova, dedicated the plush three-acre plot.
Leaving it all Adams’ hands, Nazimova completed her tour and returned to New York to resurrect her Broadway career.
Over the course of the hotel’s first 16 months in business, from January 1927 to April 1928, the Garden was the subject of more than 30 mentions in the Times society columns. On February 13, for example, in the paper’s “Society of Cinemaland” column, there was a blurb about a woman named Beulah Livingston of New York would be hosting an “’at home’ for her many Cinemaland friends at the Garden of Alla.” She had invited more than one-hundred people to a tea served in the hotel’s dining room, lounge and pergola.
The guest list, published in full, included a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood names – Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Adela Rogers St. John, Fanny Brice, Lillian Gish, Gilbert Roland, Richard Barthlemess, Ronald Colman, Frances Marion and Fred Thompson, Myron Selznick, Samuel Goldwyn, and the Talmadge party — Constance Talmadge and her sisters, sister Natalie, with husband, Buster Keaton, and Norma, with husband, Joe Schenck.
Also on the list were Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They were in town for Scott’s first foray into screenwriting. He would return a decade later and live in Villa 1 at the Garden of Allah.
Another article that same day listed “prominent personages now at the Garden of Alla.” Interestingly, most were not movie people. Lady Manners and Iris Tree were still there, along with Miss Elinor Patterson, daughter of Chicago Tribune publisher, James Medill Patterson; Mme. Elizabeth Schirmer, whose husband composed the music for the play “The Miracle,” the play in which Manners and Tree were appearing; polo players Tommy Hitchcock and William Tevis; and Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Barber.
In April, Jean Adams ran another ad – “Special Summer Rates in Effect Until June 1st” – with more flowery copy:
Plan to sojourn this Summer at the Southland’s most unique and extraordinary residential hotel and villas. In the heart of the Motion Picture Capitol. Wonderful luncheons and dinners. Magnificent Swimming Pool. Bridge, Horseback Riding, Golf Privileges.
In May, a blurb in the Times’ “News of the Cafés” column addressed confusion about the Garden of Alla’s restaurant. “There seems to be prevalent an erroneous impression,” read the item, “to the effect that the dining room of the new Garden of Alla Hotel … is conducted for the benefit of guests of the hotel only. Nothing could be farther from the fact.” The restaurant, the operators said, offered a cuisine on par with top establishments in New York and Paris.
Lady Diana Manners
The first newsworthy guest in the Garden of Alla’s inaugural year was Lady Diana Manners, a British celebrity. She and her friend and traveling companion Iris Tree checked in on January 24. Lady Diana was 35 years old and known as both a great beauty and an unconventional thinker. She had an aristocratic background. Her parents were the Duke and Duchess of Ruthland, and the family holdings included 6,000 acres and Belvoir (pronounced “Beaver”) Castle. She was married to Alfred Duff Cooper and was known in later life as Lady Diana Cooper.
“Although she was not known as a professional actress, her visit to Los Angeles was part of a nationwide tour of a religious play, “The Miracle,” which was being staged at the newly opened Shrine Auditorium. In the play, Lady Diana played the Madonna and Iris Tree played a nun. The arrival of the play and its high-born star was treated as big news. The Times sent a reporter to interview her at the Garden of Alla.
“The much-heralded Madonna of ‘The Miracle’ has arrived in Los Angeles,” his report stated, “Lady Diana Manners, to be sure. And she proves to be a very charming, gracious and human Madonna, despite the responsibilities of so exacting a role. With Miss Iris Tree, she is occupying a villa in the Garden of Alla.” The reporter caught up with her “having luncheon on the terrace of her small villa with Miss Tree and Morris Gest,” the show’s producer.
In her diary, Lady Diana was less gracious. She seemed to like to the Garden of Alla. “After a full hour’s drive [from the train station] we came to the Garden of Allah, our lodging-to-be,” she wrote. “I admit it’s entrancing – a tiny whitewashed village of two- and three-roomed Spanish houses, fountains and a swimming pool, arcades and white out-of-doors stairs. Iris and I share one” and others in her company shared three others.
About dinner that first night, she wrote, “Going to dine now in the sitting room. Twenty Chinese [servers] in jade-green silk have brought in the entire dinner from soup to nuts on one tray, so it will be bitterly cold from the second course on.” And she didn’t care for Los Angeles at all: “I hate this town, hate it, hate it!”
A few days later, Mrs. Vincent Astor, a member of New York society, registered at the Garden. Her husband was the principal heir to the fortune of his father, John Jacob Astor. She was the first Mrs. Astor, formerly Helen Dinsmore Huntington. (His third wife, Brooke Astor, perhaps the last society woman of her type, died in 2003.) Also checking in was her friend and traveling companion, Mrs. Harriman Russell. The two were part of a larger party of aristocrats who were touring the country. They had recently stayed at Pebble Beach and would next travel to New Orleans.
During their stay at the Garden, the Times reported, the Astor party was introduced to Mexican food at a luncheon at the United Artists studios, located nearby at Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue. Luncheon guests included Lady Diana Manners, other visitors from abroad and Hollywood royals actor John Barrymore, United Artists’ co-owners (with Charlie Chaplin), Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as well as its CEO, Joseph Schenck and his wife, the actress Norma Talmadge.