Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Nirvana Apartments

May 19, 1940, Nirvana Apartments

A few months ago, a friend and I were walking up Orange Drive from the El Capitan Theatre to the Hollywood Heritage Museum and noticed a striking Japanese looking apartment building at 1775 N. Orange Drive. It featured a pagoda-style roof and carved dragons under the eaves. After reading the historical-cultural monument plaque on the front, I decided to investigate more about the history of the building.

Nirvana Apartments

The Nirvana Apartments via Google’s Street View.

The 1920s saw an abundance of themed architecture, such as the Bulldog cafe, giant donut shop, Van de Kamp’s bakeries that looked like windmills, the Aztec Hotel off Route 66 with its fantastic architecture, and the like. The Nirvana Apartments in Hollywood followed this trend. In 1925, architect E. M. Erdaly designed an Oriental Revival building that featured a pagoda roof, a pagoda shaped sign out front, and other interesting oriental details. Owners promoted its unique look as early as 1926, calling it the “most exclusive apartments in Hollywood” in a Los Angeles Times ad. A 1938 ad stated it displayed “unusual atmosphere” and was “beautifully furnished.”

In 1930, Hollywood Business Properties, Ltd. purchased the forty-three unit structure for $250,000 from Indemnities Mortgage Securities Company during the Great Depression. Property values either drastically decreased by 1940, or the owners put it up for short sale, because the building sold by William F. Fairchild to Mr. and Mrs. Frank C. Wheeler for $150,000. In April 1945, the Wheelers sold the property to R. B. Wheeler for approximately $200,000.

Tragedies and car accidents occurred to people living in the building. Margarita Altenbach, the niece of Nicaraguan leader Gen. Anastasio Somoza, lived there in 1944, when she caused a traffic accident that took the life of Mrs. Mary E. Alberg. Altenbach, who did not possess a license, turned left onto Highland Avenue from Hollywood Boulevard  as the signal changed and somehow jumped the curb, hitting Mrs. Alberg and knocking down a lamppost. On January 18, 1949, four year old Jacqueline Brooks called the city to report that a tree fallen by high winds had landed on her mother’s car parked outside the building. She pled, “Lizzie is cold. A tree fell on her two days ago and we can’t get it off her. Can you help us?” The Times sent along a reporter and photographer to capture Jacqueline posing with the car and tree.

On July 13, 2005, the building was named cultural historic monument #816 for Los Angeles, which helps it survive. In 2007, the building sold for $5.9 million at the top of the market, and the Times reported that the Mills Act would allow the owners to make repairs to the historic structure and get tax rebates for keeping it as historically accurate as possible. Hollywood is full of historic and beautiful apartment buildings, many of which could be threatened as property values begin increasing and developers think of tearing them down to build condos. Smart owners realize that by preserving the unique style and repairing and restoring the building they can earn tax credits, as well as probably earn higher rental rates, by promoting and leasing apartments to residents looking for striking and historic places to live.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1925, Architecture, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Nirvana Apartments

  1. Fascinating, once again MM! I see plaques around here all the time. It’s wonderful when we not only stop to read these covers, but also to find the stories behind these plaques. The roaring 20s seems to have been a big decade for building in California. Perhaps it could’ve been called the “building 20s!”
    PS: And I wish all buildings had “smart owners.”


  2. In the late sixties a friend of mine lived there, the unsung writer and first video colorist, James A. Wilde. While the neighborhood was somewhat seedy, the building stood proud and dignified. Alas, its interior was by then the usual L.A. boxes with-in a larger box style. And there was no historical plaque outside, co I did not know its magnificent name. Am hoping Nirvana still stands against the winds of Maya.


  3. James says:

    Very informative, as always Mary! Have you ever thought about doing a write-up on the Taft Building in Hollywood? Seems like there’s a lot of history there and I would love to know more about it. Just a thought… 🙂


  4. Mary Mallory says:

    That’s a good one to look into, James! I’ll add it to the list.


  5. Val says:

    There was a murder in this building a few years ago. As i remember it, the killers dragged the body out to the trash dumpster but the dumpster was too full, so they carried it back into the building. Several people noticed and they were arrested.


    • Sue says:

      Hi there! The incident occurred in the late 1990’s. The building is now under new management and is very clean and safe now. 🙂


  6. jane doe says:

    I’ve written a memoir of Hollywood, the music scene, circa 1980. I lived in the Nirvana, second door from the left, first floor. There’s a description of life in the Nirvana at that time – screaming neighbors, roaches galore, gang fights in the hallway…


  7. Sue says:

    Hi Mary! Thank you so much for this article. We’ve learned some things we didn’t even know. I’m the new manager and the place is cleaned up (building and people). The Magic Castle even rents 4 units as hotel space for their visiting performers. 🙂 If you ever want a tour give me a call. Sue


  8. Simon says:

    The area is now very HIP and trendy. Very safe. Its a playground for the Young and beautiful Hollywood types.


  9. aryedirect says:

    There’s something endearing about Nirvana becoming a hell hole for a while, then turning once again to be heavenly. Life is like that sometimes.


  10. Marlene Sexton says:

    My husband and I managed the Nirvana in 1979 and 80. At the time it was owned by Gus Fischer and his, then wife, Rue McClanahan. When they divorced, he sold it to Terry and Lily Chin. What a place! We have some crazy stories from there, but it was the most interesting place I have ever lived. Fun to read about it.


  11. CARMELITE says:

    I lived just across the street, at 1750 N. Orange, which has been a parking lot for a while now. The place was called The Regency, a square, whitewashed two-storey bldg. with about 20 apts supposedly designed for up-and-coming starlets–at first, anyway. Bogey and Marilyn Monroe both allegedly lived there. It was built, I believe, in the early 40s. When I lived there in 1988, the original Murphy beds were still in the closets, but the dressing rooms (I assume) had been converted into small kitchens with no sinks. The place had real charm, even though it was filled with rock-star wannabe’s and their girlfriends–all sweet kids no older than their mid-20s. I was sad to see the placed condemned and fenced off in 2002, and gone only a little while after that. If anybody has any history on the place or can tell me more, or photos, it has become a real icon for me for some reason. Sorry I got off subject here, but hopefully not too far away.


  12. Terry Kramer says:

    3 Nov. 15
    Thanks for this update Mary! For years any search about the Nirvana l/t misinformation that
    the building was built by Anna Mae Wong, LA Magazine printed that in the 80’s. I’ve shot b/w
    infrared photos that reinforced all the building’s mystery. I always wondered if it was some how
    connected with the Chinese Theater around the corner. Thanks again, Terry


  13. APuterman says:

    I had a friend who lived there in 1966. It was said that Ruldolph Valentino had lived there. Glad to see that it has been refurbished . Thanks for the article


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