Was Nazimova’s Swimming Pool Designed to Look Like the Black Sea?


Writing about the Garden of Allah Hotel for Collier’s in 1948, Amy Porter, a longtime resident of the Sunset Strip hotel, mentioned that the shape of the pool was an ongoing topic of debate among her famous neighbors as they sunned themselves by it on languid gin-soaked afternoons. The design of the pool is still being debated today.

Was it really supposed to represent the Black Sea, where the pool’s designer, Alla Nazimova, who bought the estate in 1918 and then converted it to a hotel in 1926, was born? (By 1948 it was too late but it is a shame that no one bothered to pop up to Villa 24, where Nazimova lived until her death in 1945, and ask her what, if anything, the shape of the pool was supposed to represent.)

The pool was famous in the Movie Colony as a venue for pratfalls. “It is conventional to fall into the pool,” the writer Lucius Beebe said. “All the best people do it. It wakes one up.”

Porter wrote that it “is so situated as to be a menace to those who return late and tired from parties. The residents are not much alarmed if along about 3 a.m. they hear the smack of a body against the water. They just turn over and go back to sleep.”

John Barrymore is said to have held the record for falls into the pool. And Robert Benchley, probably the runner-up, denied that after an accidental dousing in the Garden pool he invented the line, “Get me out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.” (He may have used the line after a fall but Mae West wrote it.) Marlene Dietrich and/or Tallulah Bankhead were said to like to swim in it at night naked except for their jewelry.

As noted, even today nearly every reference on the Interwebs to the famous pool — which is now filled with rubble and entombed under the concrete parking lot of the shopping center that replaced the Garden in 1959 — suggests it was shaped like the Black Sea.

So let’s settle this thing. Was the pool designed to look like the Black Sea? What do you think?


Cross-posted from Playground to the Stars

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