Thursday, September 10, 2015

ME AND ANCIENT GARDENIAS




There are times (actually many times) when I'm concerned that some of my writing will be mistaken for fiction - - a good example is my previous post Notes on a Sultry September Night

 

I can assure you that fiction isn't on my agenda. I have far too many interesting true stories to tell.

I've never considered myself to be a good writer, but I do have a knack for making mundane things sound interesting. That's because I'm a keen observer. I always absorb the events in my life with photographic precision, and with the shrewd intention of eventually transforming them into words. It's either an artistic gift or complete insanity.

In Sultry September Night I tried to convey what it was like being a piano player (not a pianist) in an after-hours Hollywood club. I was in my early 20's - - reckless, adventurous, intrinsically romantic, perpetually horny.

I've always believed in the delicious allure of mystery. When I write, I sometimes purposefully omit (or shade) some details - - simply to buffer my readers from the sobering rawness of unnecessary reality. I'll be surprised if that makes any sense.

I didn't reveal who the Ancient Gardenia was, and I only hinted at the relationship between waiter and pianist (me).

Here are some facts:
The club on Fairfax where I played piano is long gone. The apartment building where I lived on Hollywood Boulevard is also gone - - demolished in 1984.

It was the Garden Court Apartments, located at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard - one of my absolute favorite historic buildings in Hollywood. Designed by architect Frank Meline and opened in 1917. In the 1920's it was a posh residence - inhabited by such luminaries as Clara Bow, Rudolph Valentino, Mae Murray, Tom Mix, and Mack Sennett.
(Marilyn Monroe supposedly lived there early in her career, but I can't confirm this).


Old photo of the Garden Court Apartments
located at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard

When I lived there (in my early 20's) it was an ancient, deteriorating relic - - hopelessly outdated and largely forgotten. I had a great love for the place simply because it had such a rich, glamorous history. After the Garden Court Apartments was closed in 1980, it became a creepy haven for derelicts and drug addicts and was aptly dubbed "Hell Hotel". 

Me - and a few other hardcore Hollywood aficionados - desperately tried to keep the building from being demolished. Actress Debbie Reynolds attempted to buy the place and turn it into a museum. All of our pleas fell on deaf ears and the building was demolished in 1984.


 Rare photo of the front of the Garden Court, looking out towards Hollywood Boulevard




I remember the very last time I saw the Garden Court Apartments. It was late at night when I walked past it. A temporary chain link fence had been constructed around the building to keep people out - but I saw a few ghouls lurking in doors and windows. 

Some of the ornamental figurines along the outside top of the first floor had already been knocked down. I really wanted to have one as a souvenir, but I didn't want to climb the fence and risk getting caught by a derelict or a cop.


What about the mysterious Ancient Gardenia who used to frequent the cafe where I played the piano? Who was she?

All I know is that she was once a famous silent movie actress. It was rumored that she was Alice Terry, wife of director Rex Ingram. Terry had starred in films with Rudolph Valentino and Ramon Novarro.
The "Gardenia" was in her 70's (at least) when I encountered her. 


 Alice Terry, 1920's

And what about the intriguing Arabian waiter?
Let's just say that I was very familiar with the waiter. At around the same time, I was also very familiar with an Italian chef at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Am I telling too much? Am I tarnishing my sterling reputation? (grinning sarcastically)

Incidentally, I wrote a poem entitled Notes for an Ancient Gardenia, which is in my book Love Letters to Ghosts

 



 


10 comments:

  1. pity the garden court was destroyed; they don't build them like that any more.

    I will show this post to my spouse, who is a silent movie buff. and the gardenia was a beautiful woman in her time.

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    1. So many historic buildings in Hollywood have been torn down. The true essence of the golden past has been destroyed and replaced by a synthetic Candyland atmosphere. I'm glad I knew Hollywood when golden relics still remained.

      I love silent movies. Alice Terry starred in some classics, such as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" with Valentino.

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  2. I wish Ms. Reynolds could have bought and turned Garden Court Appt.s into a museum. My sister was a friend of Forrest Ackerman, who made a fine movie museum of his house. I'm sure he and other enthusiasts would have filled a place like Garden Ct. in no time. I'm wondering if supervisors rejected the sale over earthquake safety standards that were changing building codes at the time --or were they, like what goes on up here, financially "influenced" by developers.

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    1. I think the building was demolished for a combination of both the reasons you suggested. It was so large and old that the costs for renovation would have been enormous - but I think turning it into a museum would have been a splendid idea. I moved out of California shortly after the Garden Court Apartments was torn down, but I heard from a friend that an L.A. Fitness Center has been built in it's place........Disgusting!

      I never met Forrest Ackerman but I greatly admired him - he was truly a unique character and a Hollywood icon. Among his many interests was a love for Esperanto.
      I remember eagerly devouring "Famous Monsters of Filmland" Magazine when I was a kid.

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  3. I don't know what I was expecting, but the first photo of the Garden Courts literally made me gasp.
    How fortunate you were to have been touched by those walls.

    Yes. I think your purposefully 'shading' details from any 'sobering rawness' makes perfect sense. There's a real allure ... a beauty, if you will, to the written veil.

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  4. I truly loved the Garden Court Apartments and I'm so glad that I knew it - before the demolition. So much of old Hollywood is gone now and the place has turned into a tawdry Disneyesque tourist attraction. Many people have encouraged me to come back and visit it again, but I just couldn't. I want to remember it as it was when I lived there. I'm a staunch sentimentalist and I don't iike change.

    I do like mystery and romance, and I TRY (occasionally successfully) to incorporate it in my writing. I'm greatful for your appreciation of my efforts.

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  5. It's such a shame when old buildings with classic architectural features and a long history are torn down to make way for something new, usually something unremarkable and completely devoid of soul and meaning. In general, Europe does a much better job of respecting history than we do, but thank goodness, we're getting better. Too bad Garden Court wasn't saved.

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  6. The Garden Court Apartments was replaced by the L.A. Fitness Center. What a travesty!!! Europe has indeed done a remarkable job of retaining the past.

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  7. You're from New Jersey, look at all the old hotels they tore down in Atlantic City. With the beach,boardwalk and old style buildings they would have had a perfect marketing tool. The casinos would have renovated if forced by the state. Anything for the bucks.

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  8. That's so true. I really believe that greed and the mindless desire for "progress" has impeded the thought process of these Bozo Big Wigs.

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