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Garden Court’s Primrose Path (1917-1984)

Anyone could live like a movie star at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard: the Garden Court Apartments.

Opened in 1917 to accommodate players in the burgeoning motion-picture industry, the four-story’s neoclassical exterior featured Corinthian columns, dentil cornice, and figural corbels “holding up” the second-story molding. At the entrance, a trio of cherubs embraced a fountain, flanked by a pair of globe light posts.

According to a 1920 ad in the Los Angeles Times, it was “the finest apartment house in the finest location that can be found anywhere.”

Figural corbels support the second-story molding (pictured at right)

Amenities matched the prestige of its notable residents Clara Bow, Louis B. Mayer, Sid Grauman, Lillian Gish, and Mack Sennett: daily maid service, full-service beauty parlor, two tennis courts, roof garden, billiard room walled with Batchelder tiles (see photograph below), and ballroom modeled after Petit Trianon in Paris.

Garden Court's billiard room

True to its name, the U-shaped building’s inner court was surrounded by a Southern Italy-inspired garden landscaped with some of the finest palms in California. “There’s beauty, comfort, elegance, warmth, and quiet everywhere,” declared the LA Times. “Every corner and nook is the expression of someone best thought and ability.”

The 72 furnished suites were trimmed in mahogany and ivory, and filled with the finest period pieces to match the 18th century architecture: Colonial chaise lounges and rockers, Martha Washington sewing tables, and William and Mary dining furniture. Many of the units included a baby grand piano.

Kitchens came with the most modern improvements, like an electric refrigerating system and sanitary garbage chute connected directly to the incinerator room.

In 1922, Garden Court had a starring role in the silent film Night Life in Hollywood.

In its scene—a dream sequence about the debauchery of Hollywood—Arkansas runaway Joe Powell (J. Frank Glendon) stumbles out of Garden Court after an evening of revelry with a gaggle of party girls, who all hop in a chauffeured car and head west down Hollywood Boulevard for a joy ride.

After several decades, however, the bloom was off the rose at Garden Court, located just a half-block west of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. In 1970, actress Debbie Reynolds entered negotiations to turn the historic apartment building into a Hollywood museum. But after three stalled years, she terminated talks—and the failed deal marked the beginning of the end for Garden Court.

In 1980, the last of the tenants, most of whom were elderly, were evicted by the new owner, C-D Investment Co., who then began demolition on the condemned building without a city permit. The work was immediately halted, but it was clear Garden Court was in jeopardy.

Garden Court, vacant in 1981 (LAPL)

To save it, the Cultural Heritage Board declared Garden Court a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (#243). But the battle was far from over. C-D Investment (named after owners Alexander Coler and Naftali Deutsch) was determined to tear it down—and put up a 16-story office building. The following year, in 1982, C-D petitioned to revoke the landmark status on the merit of the crumbling property being unsafe and not “worth” the estimated $3 million restoration.

“The time has come when someone has to make the decision to pull the plug,” C-D’s director of planning and engineering, Max W. Strauss, told the Cultural Heritage Board that January. “That beautiful old lady is dead.” They disagreed, and denied the demolition request. (Interestingly, Strauss previously worked on the Board of Public Works, but was forced to resign in 1980 by Mayor Tom Bradley amid questionable spending practices and his awarding of contracts.)

Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, who originally voted to save Garden Court, suddenly switched her support and led the push to withdraw the landmark designation, as the building was no longer “salvageable at this point.” She denied claims that thousands of dollars in campaign donations from C-D Investment influenced her change of heart. “My conscience is clear,” Stevenson maintained.

Following her lead, Los Angeles City Council voted 12-2 to remove Garden Court from the landmark roster, a crucial next step towards its demolition.

Hollywood preservationists staged protests and overnight vigils, yet C-D remained undeterred. Landmark status “has no legal significance,” scoffed Strauss. “It means absolutely nothing.”

Still, there were more legal hurdles. Bill Gordon, another developer who intended to restore Garden Court, sued to take ownership from C-D Investment. “Most of the world, they do not know about Los Angeles. But they do know about Hollywood,” said Gordon, a Hungarian immigrant. “From outside, Hollywood always seemed really glamorous. If anyone is coming to this city, what can they see of Hollywood?

Amid the years-long deadlock, vacant Garden Court became overrun by squatters, mostly teen runaways, “who accelerated the building’s demise by vandalizing its innards and starting a series of fires,” reported the LA Times.

As it turned out, the actions inside the historic apartment home were far worse than any kind of structural damage. In November 1983, the non-profit Children of the Night rescued dozens of juvenile transients, some as young as 12, who told horrific tales of being raped, drugged, and forced into prostitution. Three of the girls were pregnant.

“My staff went in there and the kids shouted at them ‘We’re from hell’,” Lois Lee told United Press International. “There were about 50 kids there, some were sniffing glue, some were shooting whiskey.” When contacted, most of the parents did not want their children back. One mother told Lee her daughter “is better off where she is.”

As of January 1984, there had been at least 10 incidents of arson at Garden Court, the most recent (and second that week) consuming much of the top floor’s west wing. It took 16 firefighters two hours to extinguish the flames. Battalion Chief Robert J. MacMillan described the “booby traps” that worked against the favor of first responders: open elevator shafts, staircases with no railings and missing steps, holes in the ceilings and rotten floors.

Two months later, Hollywood Boulevard’s “attractive nuisance” was no more.

On March 15, 1984, the wrecking crew arrived at Garden Court, tasked with destroying what the LA Times deemed in 1920 “one of the most attractive and complete apartment houses in the United States.”

That morning, workers were greeted with “Welcome to Hell” spray-painted across a lobby wall. Another graffiti message ominously warned: “You Check In But You Don’t Check Out.”

The 16-story office building imagined by C-D Investments never happened—debts totaling a half-billion dollars torpedoed the development company.

In its place, the Hollywood Galaxy six-plex movie theater premiered in 1991, taking its final bow 12 years later.

Today, the building is still dubbed Hollywood Galaxy, albeit now a strip mall with CVS, Target, Subway, and LA Fitness … chain businesses of the garden variety.

1 Comment

Nov 24, 2023

Heard it all before.

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