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Category: Curiosity for Rent

Ahmed apartments: Call the style Pyramid Modern

Curiosity for Rent:  The Ahmed

A pair of Egyptian revivalist apartments rise like book-ended tombs south of Fountain Avenue, one block from the roaring 101 Freeway.  The 1925 Karnak and the 1926 Ahmed were designed by architect J.M. Close, his blueprints inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922.

An old photo of the Ahmed found on Google shows the current pylon base façade and three-story columns at 5616 Lexington Ave. Yet visible in that photo is an etched leaf design on the flutes that has since been covered. All the ledge detail seen in the old photo has also vanished, along with the name Ahmed that was scored into the entrance. First-floor metal moldings stamped with pharaohs, fans and mummies also have been lost to plaster.

The 2003 update of "An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles" by Robert Winter and David Gebhard lists the Ahmed’s original murals as having been “restored with considerable verve.” But they too are as buried as the pharaoh Akhenaton. 

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Karnak Apartments: Live like an Egyptian (or at least Hollywood's version of one)

Curiosity for Rent: The Karnak Apartments, Hollywood

Sitting like matching tombs one block apart, the Karnak and Ahmed apartments are the work of architect J.M. Close, known for his Egyptian-inspired buildings.

Close was so keyed to Egypt during the revivalist 1920s that in "An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles," authors David Gebhard and Robert Winter suggested that a pyramid be built in Close's honor.  

Karnak-wide The Karnak’s faux stone façade suggests the angled base of a pyramid.  Two white, fluted columns rise three stories to either side of the entrance at 5617 La Mirada Ave. The building is named for the Karnak temple ruins near Luxor, Egypt -- not for Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent act, as believed by one tenant.

Unfortunately, much of detailing on the 1925 building’s face has been cemented over. Archive photos show finer tailoring on the columns along with blue and gold etchings on the flutes and top ledge. The current owner (and possible cement mixer?) could not be reached.

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At Harvey Apartments, the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe live on

Curiosity for Rent: Harvey Apartments, Hollywood

Hollywood’s Harvey Apartments present a bright face: 80-foot-tall murals of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Marilyn Monroe.  But a darker past lies inside the 177-unit building.

On Dec. 1, tenant Harold Smith shot himself in the head as Beverly Hills detectives approached him for questioning in the building’s lobby. Smith was a suspect in the November slaying of publicist Ronni Chasen, gunned down in her Mercedes after attending a premiere of the movie "Burlesque." 

The case jangled Hollywood nerves, even after police said it was solved: Bullets from the .38 revolver that Smith used to shoot himself matched those at the Chasen crime scene, police said.

“I was in my apartment and remember hearing a noise," said Harvey resident David Damas, who has lived in a single here for 32 years. "I thought it was the usual -- a car backfiring. The awful thing is, the shooting made the building look bad, and that’s just not true.”

Reports of Smith’s suicide invariably included tawdry descriptions of the building at 5640 Santa Monica Blvd. “A seedy Hollywood transient hotel” was among the more pointed portrayals. 

Harvey-portrait Damas likes to steer conversation to the building’s brighter side, especially his connection to Harvey’s property manager, Ana Gladys Amaya. (That's the two of them at right.)

“She has been like a second mother to me,” said Damas, seated in an office beside the 1927 building’s teal-accented lobby. "She’s my guardian angel, asking after me when I’m sick, helping a partially blind tenant. Damas called Amaya "one of my blesseds." 

Damas moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1978, soon landing acting gigs, including a starring role in the 1980 Disney comedy "Midnight Madness."  Roles gradually thinned for Damas, who now works as a basketball coach for high schools and youth groups. “I’m grateful I moved into an affordable place early on,” he said.

The murals were painted in 2001 by Hector Ponce, who said of his strikingly colorful work: “I wanted to make Hollywood more beautiful.”

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Alexander Ruler of the World Apartments: The colorful back story of a Hollywood legend

Curiosity for Rent:  Alexander Ruler of the World Apartments, Hollywood

Classically Greek and exuberantly tweaked, the 60-unit Alexander Ruler of the World Apartments were purportedly built by Paramount Studios to house actors in 1927.  Actor George Pan-Andreas bought the property in 1992 and in 2007 hired artist Danny Doxton to tart it up, beginning with ruby red paint patterned with orange swirls.

“Alexander the Great opened Persia to the world, and so I honor him with this building,” Pan-Andreas says, seated in his lobby near a photo of James Dean and a painting of Jesus paired with Art Nouveau nymphs.

CFR-Alexander-Ruler-Banner Having nailed their theme, Pan-Andreas and Doxton went to work, adding cartouches styled after figural Greek vases that flank Doric columns topped with an entrance pediment. Greek-style lettering and frets, Olympic rings, depictions of Valentino, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, along with reliefs of Alexander III of Macedon also vie for attention -- along with the building’s hot pink walls --  in case you should miss this Parthenon-on-acid while approaching 830 N. Van Ness Ave.

The building has become a favorite stop for Starline Trolley Tours and others. Doxton, who lives in San Pedro, says he added masses of orange swirls on outer walls “to kill the color,” adding that “George told me one day to make the building look good, to follow his crazy ideas.  We kept adding things all the time.”  Most of the architectural flourishes are cut from foam, covered with wire mesh and then spread with polymer cement.

CFR-Alexander-Ruler-G-L CFR-Alexander-Ruler-G-C CFR-Alexander-Ruler-G-R Pan-Andreas, above, is a raconteur whose graveled, Greek accent streams with tales of early Hollywood. (Ginger Rogers, he says, was his godmother.) Tenants say he's not just larger than life.  He’s good-hearted.

“George loves actors,” says Rob, a one-year tenant and TV production manager who declined to give his last name.  “Most everyone here is young, moving from different states to land gigs in the industry.  I’ve heard stories of actors not being able to make their rent for a month, and George understands.”

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