The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles
Everyone spoke, but it's history.
Is Los Angeles capable of preserving its precious history?
What went wrong and who is responsible?
The Ambassador Hotel has disappeared! An irreplaceable chunk of Los Angeles history has vanished along with the 84-year old, massive 500-room hotel. Amazingly, the once mighty and infinitely legendary Ambassador Hotel has recently been demolished. It's been four years since the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officially gained control of the property. Many had wanted to see the
hotel declared a city historical landmark, completely
restored as a resort hotel, and the land to be kept as a single parcel
for the hotel, or at the very least have the hotel converted into a school as a last ditch effort to save it. Unfortunately, the LAUSD owns the
hotel and property and has other things in mind. They somehow reached the unwavering conclusion that a new high school must sit on precisely the same spot as the hotel, despite there being a number of other locations in the immediate vicinity where it could have gone, which would have given the hotel the recognition and preservation that it and the City and people of Los Angeles well deserved. Instead, the site that was among the richest points of Los Angeles history ever, is now a vacant lot, but for one building.
The LAUSD will reuse the Cocoanut Grove building, the only structure currently remaining on the property, as a school auditorium. Ironically, it's the only structure that is not quite original, as it was completely redone in the 1970s, on top of other remodelings. By 2008, perhaps longer with the "unexpected discovery" of methane gas, an elementary school will open and in 2009 the middle and high schools will open, combined to make a gargantuan campus in the heart of a commercial zone, intended to accommodate 4,240 students. If this school follows many of the other L.A. area school profiles, there's likely to be more students than originally slated. An on-site police outpost is planned, intended to help supervise the new mini-city population of juveniles. The property will go from having what used to be movement of hundreds of people daily, to 5,000 to 8,000 people coming and going daily (students, faculty and parents). Environmental impact studies reportedly indicate there will be no significant adverse affects to the area. Kids from the surrounding 10-block area will have their school. Los Angeles will have sacrificed The Ambassador Hotel for it. The budget for the new school construction: $270 million, although making accommodations for the methane gas will, according to news sources, add millions more.
At one time, the LAUSD sought public opinion on several different hotel and property usage concepts. Multiple proposals were brought forward and many alternatives preserving the hotel were feasible, yet the LAUSD couldn't seem to arrive at a decision that pleased anyone but primarily themselves and those in the neighborhood desperate for a school. Several ideas were being considered: maximum reuse, partial reuse, entirely new construction, and a reuse variation while selling off frontage property for commercial development; they ultimately chose mostly new construction and to substantially remodel what little remained.
Isn't the LAUSD the same entity that squandered
a reported $238 million to build the Belmont Learning Center? When it was near completion, they discovered it was a toxic site unsuitable for occupation, condemned the entire complex and then later demolished it for millions more, all of which has been in addition to well over $100 million spent fighting for the Ambassador.
And not a single usable classroom has been built in the neighborhood in over 15 years, after an estimated $400 million of spending! Should these people have determined the destiny of a historic hotel & property? There is no question that school facilities are much needed in the area, particularly after the Belmont fiasco and the protracted Ambassador embarrassment, but the decision to use a one-of-a-kind parcel of prime commercial real estate and at the same time demolish a Los Angeles landmark is the puzzle.
The Ambassador Hotel opened in 1921, designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt (Rose Bowl Stadium, Caltech, Pasadena Library, Occidental College, Huntington Hotel in Pasadena--all still standing, among many others). It occupied 23.7 acres at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, bordered by Wilshire Boulevard at the north, 8th Street at the south, Catalina Street at the east, and nearly to Mariposa Avenue at the west. It was owned by the Schine family for about 50 years, until its doors were closed after 68 years of service in 1989, selling for $64 million, which was consumed entirely by accrued debt. Fire code requirements had changed and earthquake safety standards had to be met, which each would have cost millions of dollars. Funds were not available for the necessary upgrades, so the hotel had to be closed. It quickly became the object of a tug-of-war between the purchasers and the LAUSD, who claimed eminent domain ("a right of a government to take private property for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction"). Countless plans to either restore or develop the property were never realized, as developers came and went, discouraged by the LAUSD's determination to have the property. The former centerpiece of the Wilshire corridor and treasure of Los Angeles was left to deteriorate. From 1989 to 2001, the hotel was tied in legal knots, with the buyers and the LAUSD battling over development rights to the property. Even after the LAUSD officially gained ownership in 2001 for $76.5 million, the struggle over the fate of the hotel continued another several years until 2005.
As the fight for control over the property and preservation issues ensued, the hotel and facilities were used so regularly as a set for film and television, people were calling it The Ambassador Studios, perhaps fitting for a place where six Academy Award ceremonies were held (including the year Gone with the Wind swept the awards). For decades, the hotel's Cocoanut Grove was the hot spot for live entertainment on the West Coast, where people like Bing Crosby and Barbra Streisand had their start, and Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and many others came to perform. Gene Kelly, Diana Ross, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Julie Andrews all played the Grove. The hotel served as the stomping grounds for a staggering list of Hollywood legends, heads of state, and what would be an endless list of famous personalities from the 20th Century. Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon stayed there. When Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the U.S. in 1959, he stayed at the Ambassador. Ronald Reagan used the Ambassador when he was making his bid for governor of California. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was shot in a pantry off of the Embassy Room (and died 25 hours later), following his California Primary victory speech. Marilyn Monroe had her start as a model, as a client of the poolside modeling agency Blue Book Models. Howard Hughes and Jean Harlow were some of the many longtime residents who made it their home for a time. All of this history, and so much more, happened at The Ambassador Hotel.
Pretty Woman (1990) is commonly thought to have been filmed inside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. Wrong! The Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, which opened in 1928 (just seven years after the Ambassador), is a beautiful hotel still very much in operation, as the Ambassador should have been as well. While it's true the exterior of the Beverly Wilshire was displayed several times as an establishing shot in Pretty Woman, the moment the interiors were shown, it was the lobby of The Ambassador Hotel. Take a look at the Interior image below and compare the column in the foreground and smaller columns in the background with scenes from the movie. The very distinctive Ambassador columns are clearly visible in every lobby scene. Also, The Ambassador Hotel had a fountain in the middle of the lobby, clearly visible in the background of the elevator scenes, and not a feature of the Beverly Wilshire. The hotel suite scenes were filmed on a sound stage, not at either hotel. Put it all together and that's the magic of Hollywood!