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.
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.