That night I discovered the park at De Longpre and Cherokee. . . . Looking at all the small houses, telling myself that these were where Swanson and Pickford and Chaplin and Arbuckle and the others used to live in the good old days . . .
—Horace McCoy, 1938
This much is clear: the good old days have passed.
Some giant fig trees, a few pygmy palms
drop broken shade on disenfranchised grass;
dogs loping, limping; vagrants begging alms;
and in the center—ludicrously named
Aspiration—face uplifted, framed
by dusty fronds, he stands on tippy-toe,
abstract Adonis, bronze lothario.
Sit here all night, if you can bear the grime—
watch people come and go, but you will see no
women in black shed tears for Valentino.
The Sheik sinks deep into the dunes of time.
A crow clacks in the branches overhead,
like a projector slowly going dead.
II: The flower painter
The château was also demolished, but don’t go thinking this was an imaginary château. Inquiries made, it was the residence of Monsieur Paul de Longpré, a French painter who had lived here since the beginning of Hollywood . . .
—Blaise Cendrars, 1936
A scruffy rose bush puts on airs out front
a big beige box—two stories, caked in stucco—
that bears the name, in flaking cursive font,
of Paul de Longpré. Fainter than an echo,
the long-departed flower painter’s ghost
patrols the grounds, where he for years played host
to pleasure-seekers in his man-made Eden.
Decades ago, that Eden went to seed and
it pains me to recall what is no more . . .
My Hollywood, mon vieux, is not ideal:
a grand old dame reduced to dishabille,
her glory far too faded to restore.
But ruin was inscribed in what he built.
His precious blossoms? They were sure to wilt.
III: The Garden of Allah
The Garden of Allah Hotel, playground of the movie stars during the 20s and 30s, will be torn down to make way for a new commercial and business center. . . . The hotel originally was the home of Alla Nazimova, late stage and screen star.
—Los Angeles Times, 1959
And now I watch another era fade,
Cyrillic letters scraped from shuttered storefronts,
tar-crusted bread, stale fish, stiff marmalade
sit sulking on the shelves, unchosen orphans
in what were once the bustling little shops
of Russian Hollywood. Hardly a soul now stops
to thumb the plums, frown at the penciled prices;
the neighborhood is lurching towards crisis,
all in slow motion. Rents climb out of reach
for émigrés . . . There’s nothing new in this.
Think of Nazimova and of her short-lived bliss
beside her pool—her private Black Sea beach . . .
She died a tenant in a bungalow
of a hotel razed sixty years ago.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 7, on page 25
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