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Curiosity for Rent: An Arabian tent in East Hollywood

November 23, 2011 |  8:08 am


Arabian-tent-GarciasAfter living with a relative for years, Teresa Garcia decided she and her family needed their own space. “She was determined,” said her husband, Martin Garcia. The couple arrived in the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, 11 years ago. Upon finding a studio for rent at 544 N. Heliotrope Drive in East Hollywood, Teresa told her husband, “It’s a castle! I found a castle!” The couple’s daughter, Kimberly, saw the building and declared it the Princess Castle.

To others, the 1924 property looks a bit like an Arabian tent. The 20-unit building attracts considerable attention, perched on the route of CicLAvia, an occasional event when streets are closed to make way for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“People bike by, stop and take pictures all the time,” said building manager Miguel Hernandez, a three-year tenant who lives with his wife, Judith, and 7-year-old daughter, Michel, right.

The building’s face presents Egyptian and Moorish architectural details, including a winged sun disk in relief over the front door, used as an address marker.

Arabian-tent-winged-sunThe symbol was used in ancient Egypt and other cultures to denote innate divinity within royals. The emblem is seen widely throughout Egypt -- in hieroglyphic inscriptions, on obelisks, over temple entrances and on pyramid capstones. Modern twists on the design include logos for Southwest Airlines, Chrysler, Bentley and Mini Cooper.

Rents range from $600 to $700 for the studios. The current owners bought the property about 10 years ago, according to R&E Management, which oversees the building. The apartments were built during Los Angeles’ Egypto-mania period, fueled by the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. The architect is unknown.

Garcia said the 87-year-old building seems haunted at times. “I sometimes hear someone walking in the hallway at night,” said Garcia, a waiter at Bossa Nova restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. "I hear a footstep, and when I open the door, no one is there," he said. "That kind of stuff."

Garcia and Hernandez heard from past tenants that the building was built atop a cemetery. Hernandez pointed out a towering incinerator chimney at the building’s rear. “They told me that this is where they used to burn the bodies,” he said.

Scary stuff to be sure for a 7-year-old. To Kimberly Garcia, though, 544 Heliotrope Drive will always be her Princess Castle. End of story.

-- R. Daniel Foster

Curiosity for Rent, our profiles of novel and notorious apartment buildings, appears here on Wednesdays. Suggest future subjects by emailing home@latimes.com.


First floor hallway.



Martin Garcia


The chimney is back of the building.

Photos:  R. Daniel Foster

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