The Garden of Allah villas


The Garden of Allah Hotel, villas and pool
Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

From 1927 when the private residence of Alla Nasimova, silent screen siren, was converted into apartments until 1959 when the villas were sold to a bank and bulldozed into history, the Garden of Allah villas hosted Hollywood luminaries, gangsters, bohemians and barflies. Its expansive pool was the private playpen for studio heads, stars and starlets in the 1950’s, hedonists whose late night celebrations were the bane to the more staid patrons of their Sunset Blvd. neighbor, the Chateau Marmont.

The Gardens of Allah were famously the subject of Joni Mitchell’s iconic, “Big Yellow Taxi.” The Eagles’ Don Henley penned a song about the villas, “Garden of Allah,” as well. For the Laurel Canyon collective of the 1970’s, including Mitchell and her beau, Steve Stills, the hotel, villas and their 64 X 45 pool represented a lost bohemian’s paradise sprawled in the pre-war wastelands between LA and Beverly Hills. Some of the best known guests at the Marmont slummed it in the Garden of Allah’s cosy bungalows. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Erroll Flynn, Dorothy Parker, and Humphrey Bogart. When Richard Harris was tossed from the Marmont, where did he go? The Garden of Allah, of course.

The Garden of Allah was specially popular during the Prohibition; the villas’ pool parties never wanted for high spirits. John Barrymore kept a bicycle at his suite so as not to waste time traveling between parties scattered throughout the complex. Wives were kept at the Chateau, mistresses at the villas. Even Jean Harlow cross-crossed the street to keep her husband and lover apart.

By the mid-fifties as the Hollywood studio system was dismantled and more pictures were shot on location, the villas were in decline. Their guests were likely to be hustlers and transients. The bungalows were in disrepair and sorely in need of attention. The land was worth more than the hotel. In 1959 it was sold and demolished. There was a closing party at the Garden just before it was destroyed. Its contents were sold and the walls came down. They built a savings and loan on the sites with a sprawling parking lot.

Don’t it always seem we don’t know what we got ’til it’s gone?

For many years, the bank building that replaced the Garden of Allah displayed a miniature replica of Nasimova’s original home and pool in its lobby. Visitors could imagine the high times of Hollywood’s golden era on the expansive lawn overlooking Sunset Boulevard. But since 2007, even the miniature is gone. What became of the scale model of the villas so long on view? Are they misplaced, like the crate holding the ark of the covenant, per Indiana Jones? Or long discarded, lost in some mountain of unrecyclable detritus? Does some unlikely character have them squirreled away in his (or her) illicit collection?

Who knows where the model went?


Study Abroad

In May, 2013, the University of Limerick’s International Education Division’s Summer School hosted our MOSAIC group, which consisted of students from Maryville University, Columbia College, and Central Methodist College in Missouri. We joined students from colleges and universities across the United States attending UL summer school. Students chose from six different courses taught by UL faculty, including classes in Irish Literature, Sociology, Law, Film and media, History and Creative Writing. The apartments they shared, each with private rooms and en suite bathrooms, were located in Cappavilla Village on the north campus, overlooking the River Shannon, and included full kitchens with daily breakfast service and housekeeping. Students were provided with vouchers for lunch and supper that could be used at any of the on-campus cafes and restaurants.

Excursions to major Irish attractions were provided by UL, including a trip to the nearby Craggenowen and Bunratty castles, Limerick Milk Market, and more distant excursions to the Burren, the Atlantic shoreline at Kilkee, the Flying Boat museum in Foynes, the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, and to Dublin, where students visited the Guinness Storehouse, Croke Park Stadium (home to the Gaelic Athletic Association), and the Book of Kells in Trinity College. Two of our MOSAIC students attended one of the World Cup 2014 qualifying matches between Ireland and the Faro Islands while in Dublin. We were also hosted with food and drink vouchers to attend the UL annual Party on the Plaza, celebrating the university’s accomplishments during the previous year.

Our MOSAIC sponsored excursions included a trip to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Students participated in a photography contest sponsored by the University. Our MOSAIC students, Gabrielle and Mack, took first and second place respectively. Gabrielle’s first-place photo from her trip to the Dingle Peninsula can be seen on the UL International Education, Summer School web site.

MOSAIC students also received credit for our Maryville University study abroad course, “Exploring the Culture of Ireland.” Examples of their essays and photo essays included reflections on The Troubles, GAA Irish sports of hurling and soccer, the fallout from the Celtic Tiger economic bubble, Bloomsday and the books of James Joyce, and the Irish diaspora. For 2014, UL will again offer courses in Irish Literature, Sociology, Law, Film and media, History, and Creative Writing, and they will add two new courses: Irish Myths and Legends, and Nursing.

Ireland is known internationally as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, and the faculty and staff at University of Limerick demonstrated that sentiment every day of our experience there. I strongly recommend this study abroad opportunity for undergraduate students who want to earn 6 hours of credit and experience three weeks immersed in Irish culture. For more information, visit the MU Study Abroad web site:

Thanks for Nothing, Aristotle

I’ve been thinking about the Aristotelian story structure of beginning, middle and end lately; how any good story relies on those three parts. And how little we vary – whether in novels or plays or films – from that basic structure of what Aristotle called The Whole. Writers can play around with their stories’ timelines or wander broadly through a lot of twists and turns during the middle part, but ultimately, there’s going to be an exposition and a climax on either end for the plot to unfold in the way in which we’ve grown accustomed.

Readers expect it, don’t they?

But life doesn’t happen like that. Life is nothing like an opera or a play, where the beginning is finite and the end has a tidy denouement. What we experience is whole lot more like singing in rounds, where one damned thing doesn’t necessarily resolve itself before another raises its ugly (or comic) head. And, too often, the end for one is simply a passing, if horrible, episode for another. No cataclysm for all, just a lot of overlapping experiences.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not one of those people who thinks art should be a mirror image of life. Or that a ridiculous turn of events in a story can be justified by saying, “That’s what really happened.” In fact, when I critique a story for a fellow writer and my questions about a particularly ill-fitting scene are answered with the How It Really Happened excuse, I grow disaffected very quickly.

But I wonder if our adherence to the Hellenic story structure in three parts communicates a disquieting message about reality. Is what we experience on the page or screen a message that life well lived has to conclude with a faux finality, at just the right moment? Because that Story End, Once and For All view of life can be a recipe for disappointment at best and horror at its worst.

For example, do the misguided killers who try to emulate violent narratives, whether movies or video games or whatever, believe in the Story End, Once and For All?

I’m a developmental psychologist who’s spent many years studying, assessing, analyzing and diagnosing childhood developmental disorders. I believe I have a firm grasp on the myriad influences, both biological and environmental, and the bi-directionality of nature and nurture in development gone wrong. And most of the time, when writing and psychology intersect in my world, I’ve relied upon what I know about human development to inform my stories. Not the other way around.

Now, I wonder more than ever how our stories influence our psychology. Whether in the form of fairy and folk tales that harken from our collective past, or the mythological archetypes from the ancient world, or the novels of the last few centuries, or the films we’ve savored over the last 100 or so years, or the classic TV dramas we remember from the last half-century, or the stories whose ink is barely dry, does the structure of Beginning, Middle and End genuinely serve us? Or is it simply a form we ‘ve accepted because we don’t know another way?