A postcard of the Garden Court Apartments, listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $9.99.
For decades, the elegant Garden Court Apartments represented high-class living for both aspiring and successful residents of Hollywood. Located just west of the thriving business district at 7021 Hollywood Blvd., the neo-baroque structure featured regal caryatids holding up pilasters just above the first floor, a dramatic design showing the strength and integrity of the building.
The June 3, 1916, Los Angeles Times noted the beginning of construction for J. E. Ransford’s four-story class C apartment home, designed and built by the renowned Frank Meline Co. The classical structure would consist of 190 two and three room suites composed of hard wood and tile. An ad in the Jan. 1, 1917, Times proclaimed Hartwell Motor Co. President Ransford’s $500,000 building, “the Most Modern in the West,” and the paper called it “the most beautiful and complete apartment house” in a Jan. 22, 1917, story.
Opening to the public in January under the management of Mrs. Maud V. Mills, the Garden Court Apartments offered residents such special amenities as its own garage providing car service, a commissary, two ballrooms, billiard room, beauty parlor, daily maid service, two tennis courts, pergolas, trellises, and gardens. By April, the building hosted dances, and on May 12, 1917, hosted a tennis exhibition benefiting the Belgian Relief Fund, featuring many top male and female tennis champions in round robin competition. Its swanky ballroom served as a meeting location for many large groups, including a committee attempting to organize the Motion Picture Home for Convalescent Soldiers in March 1918, led by Mrs. Cecil B. DeMille and Mrs. J. S. Blackton.
Reaching out to high-end residents, Ransford purchased a full page of advertorial space Jan. 1, 1920, in the Los Angeles Times, featuring lavish, hyperbolic prose describing the luxurious, tasteful and well crafted “Apartments de Luxe” and its harmonious blending with surroundings, “like a perfect jewel carefully fashioned and finished by the hands of some enthusiastic artist, and then placed in a setting of wondrous mountains carved in nature’s generous grandeur… enjoyed by some, admired by all.”
The flowery prose calling Hollywood “the wonder spot of the southland” described how the pergolas, gardens, and walks suggested Southern Italy with their stately beauty, and surrounded the playing fountain and pool in the inner court, a warm, simply elegant “House of a thousand wonders – the house of the heart’s desire.”
The dramatic architecture housed regal English Renaissance furnishings in a mahogany-lined lobby festooned with velvet drapes, with lounge room and banquet room outfitted in French walnut, art-glass dome, and wall decorations below, as well as tiled kitchen, a ballroom exactly duplicating that of Paris’ Petit Trianon, and a billiard room with Batchelder tiles.
Rich mahogany and ivory trim decorated each apartment, which included hard wood floors, plate glass windows, and period furniture, along with such special amenities as steam heat, telephone service, daily maid service, vacuum connections, sanitary garbage chutes, electric refrigerators, and circulating ice water. Apartment living rooms were furnished with overstuffed furniture, chaise longues, and Colonial rockers, while Old English dining rooms filled with William and Mary furniture were outfitted in dark blues and mulberry reds. Built-ins and beveled mirrors decorated dressing rooms outside tiled bathrooms containing alcove tubs and showers. Singles were furnished with Jacobean furniture in English oak, along with moroccan leather and tapestries.
A postcard of the Garden Court Apartments, listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $9.99.
Movie magazine Photoplay called it the “largest and most beautiful apartment house in Hollywood,” drawing movie folk and celebrities to its elegant surroundings. Sam Fox, sheet music publisher, vacationed for months at the property with his family. Director King Vidor played tennis on its courts. Actress Julanne Johnston, theatre impresario Sid Grauman, photographer Frank S. Hoover, and director Sidney Franklin lived there in the 1920s, enjoying the Pryor Moore Dance Orchestra, along with classical concerts and voice classes. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd filmed on the street in front of it, as silent film historian John Bengtson points out. The luxurious meeting space lured the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to hold lighting demonstrations of Mazda lights in May 1928, to cinematographers such as Tony Gaudio, Hal Mohr, Victor Milner, and George Barnes.
In a surprise move, businessmen C. E. Toberman and S. A. Hartwell leased the building for 99 years on Feb. 19, 1926, per the Los Angeles Times, retaining all staff. The new managers made few changes, but opened meeting rooms to more diverse uses, including rentals by groups offering Bhagavad Gita and yoga classes. Entertainers performed in its banquet room, with vaudeville performer Virginia Sale headlining her own sketch show in May 1933, which garnered fine reviews in Variety. By 1930, however, Toberman was forced to turn over the structure due to financial difficulties.
Though celebrities such as Mack Sennett, Jed Prouty, and others lived there in the 1930s and 1940s, the building began a slow decline, renting space to an eclectic series of groups to pay the bills. The Church of Ataraxia held meetings there under the direction of Rev. Pearl I. Barnes, who offered flower readings and medium services.
An ad in the March 10, 1948, Los Angeles Times noted the building’s vacant corner was available for commercial development, a harbinger of things to come. By the 1960s, Useful Metaphysics taught classes in the building, as did the American School of Dance. A recording and meeting studio occupied a small part of the space in the 1960s.
New owner E. H. Karz bought the building and performed some renovations in 1961, hoping for a turnaround, but none arrived. He purchased an ad in the April 4, 1967, issue of Variety announcing lease options on the Garden Court, stating that it “is suitable for the Hollywood Hall of Fame, museum, boarding consulate, school, office etc.” The building featured 180 rooms and 80 baths, 300 seat capacity meeting halls, carpets, drapes, 100,000 square feet, all with $60,000 annual depreciation. He also noted that $100 million in new buildings surrounded the property. Los Angeles Parks and Recreation considered the building as a possible home for its Movie Museum in August 1968, after plans fell through across from the Hollywood Bowl, but these ideas also failed to come to fruition.
Karz negotiated with Debbie Reynolds and her husband in 1970 about turning the building into a Hollywood Museum. He sued them for over $8 million in damages in December 1974 after the couple walked away, claiming they had reached an agreement in 1970 to share profits in a museum to house memorabilia furnished by Reynolds and renovated by her for $300,000. The Dec. 18, 1974, Variety reported that he stated she repudiated the agreement in January 1973, after secretly beginning negotiations with possible other locations. Soon the once glamorous apartment building became the decrepit Motel 7.
As the building grew shabby, film and television took notice, with Ed Lauter shooting a TV pilot, “Delaney,” about a 1940s-era “Bogart-like private eye,” along with other companies.
Tired of dealing with the decaying building, Karz sold out to C-D Investments, who intended to tear it down in the early 1980s and construct commercial property. Preservation groups like Hollywood Heritage, Los Angeles Conservancy, and Peter Gordon rallied behind the empty and desolate building, ensuring its nomination as Los Angeles’ Historic-Cultural Monument #243 on April 16, 1981. Hollywood Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson bypassed normal procedures to ask for immediate designation, but later shifted positions to support removing its historic designation and tearing it down. For years, owners had willfully neglected the building, allowing it to become dilapidated and an eye sore. The Dec. 29, 1981, Los Angeles Times noted the building’s historic nature and stated, “Dilapidation is no excuse for tearing down a building that may be of historic value.”
Preservation groups argued in favor of taking over the Garden Court and adaptively renovating it for other uses, but court battles and large public opposition failed to stop the city from removing it from the Monuments List and starting the process leading to demolition. Though the building was eligible for National Register Landmark status, C-D Investments denied any attempts to have it so named. As the building gained the name Hotel Hell, with transients, runaways, and drifters occupying it, a judge denied the last attempt by preservation groups to buy the building and restore it. Eventually the building was demolished March 15, 1984.
Since that time, the doomed location has hosted the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, Galaxy Theatre, and Knitting Factory, which all failed, and now serves as home for Fresh and Easy, DSW Shoe Warehouse, and others. What was once dramatic and outstanding architecture is now occupied by just another shopping center, a disposable commodity in this consumer-obsessed culture.