|Location||3400 Wilshire Boulevard|
Los Angeles, California
|Opening||January 1, 1921|
|Management||Ambassador Hotel Corporation (1921)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect(s)||Myron Hunt (1921)|
Paul Williams (1949)
|Number of rooms||1,000|
The Ambassador Hotel was a hotel in Los Angeles, California. Designed by architect Myron Hunt, the Ambassador Hotel formally opened to the public on January 1, 1921. Later renovations by architect Paul Williams were made to the hotel in the late 1940s. It was also home to the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, Los Angeles’ premier night spot for decades; host to six Oscar ceremonies and to every United States President from Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon.
Prominent figures such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Yma Sumac and The Supremes were some of the many entertainers who attended and performed professionally at the Cocoanut Grove.
The hotel was the site of the assassination of United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968. Due to the decline of the hotel and the surrounding area, the Ambassador Hotel was closed to guests in 1989. In 2001, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) purchased the property with the intent of constructing three new schools within the area. After subsequent litigations to preserve the hotel as a historic site, a settlement allowed the Ambassador Hotel to be demolished in 2005, completed by early 2006.
Located at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue in present-day Koreatown, The Ambassador was set back from Wilshire Boulevard on 24 acres, which included the main hotel structure, a garage and numerous detached bungalows.
The Ambassador was built as part of the Ambassador Hotels System. At the time the hotel opened, on New Year's Day 1921, the chain consisted of The Ambassador in Los Angeles, the Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles, The Ambassador in Santa Barbara, The Ambassador in Atlantic City and The Ambassador in New York. The Santa Barbara property burned down soon after on April 13, 1921, the Alexandria left the chain in 1925, while the Ambassador Palm Beach joined in 1929. The Schine Family owned The Ambassador from its opening in 1921 until 1971.
The Ambassador Hotel was frequented by celebrities, some of whom, such as Pola Negri, resided there. From 1930 to 1943, six Academy Awards ceremonies were hosted at the hotel. Perhaps as many as seven U.S. presidents stayed at the Ambassador, from Hoover to Nixon, along with chiefs of state from around the world. For decades, the hotel's famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub hosted well-known entertainers, such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Shep Fields, Veloz & Yolanda, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Liza Minnelli, Martin and Lewis, The Supremes, Merv Griffin, Dorothy Dandridge, Vikki Carr, Evelyn Knight, Vivian Vance, Dick Haymes, Sergio Franchi, Perry Como, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Sammy Davis Jr., Little Richard, Liberace, Natalie Cole, Richard Pryor and Shirley Bassey.
Designed by American architect Myron Hunt, the Ambassador Hotel opened for business at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1921, and quickly established a new standard of hotel luxury. Guests were greeted by a grand lobby upon arrival, with an oversized Italian fireplace, crystal chandeliers, oriental carpets and luxurious draperies adorning the lobby, along with a choice of 1,000 guestrooms and bungalows. The hotel 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. When the hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub opened on April 21, 1921, it had officially solidified the hotel's social scene. In the 1980 book, Are the Stars Out Tonight?, former Ambassador PR Director, Margaret Tante Burk, recalls the Grove's opening night:
"...on the night of April 21, 1921… the new club officially opened its Moroccan style, gold leaf and etched palm tree doors... The Cocoanut Grove was aptly named, guests agreed as they were escorted by the maître de and captains down the wide plush grand staircase... Overhead, soaring about the room were cocoanut trees of papier mache, cocoanuts and palm fronds which had been rescued from the sandy beaches of Oxnard where they had served as atmosphere of the 1921 classic, The Sheik. Swinging from their branches were stuffed monkeys blinking at the revelers with their electrified amber eyes. Stars twinkled in the blue ceiling sky, and on the southernmost wall hung a full Hawaiian moon presiding over a painted landscape and splashing waterfall."
The Cocoanut Grove was frequented by celebrities such as Louis B. Mayer, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Howard Hughes, Clara Bow, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Anna May Wong, Norma Talmadge and others. According to Photoplay, Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard were frequent competitors in the Charleston contests held on Friday nights; Lombard was discovered at the Grove. The famous artificial palm trees that adorned the Cocoanut Grove were left from Rudolph Valentino's 1921 silent romantic drama film The Sheik. The names of the hotel and its nightclub quickly became synonymous with glamour. As a result, “Cocoanut Grove" would become a trendy name for bars and clubs across the United States.
Beginning in 1928, Gus Arnheim led the Cocoanut Grove Orchestra, in which six to seven songs were sung each night. At one point, there was a two-hour broadcast of the orchestra on radio. By the 1930s, the Cocoanut Grove was frequented by cinema stars like Norma Shearer, Irving Thalberg, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Loretta Young, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers and many others. On February 29, 1940, the 1939 Academy Awards Ceremony was held in the Cocoanut Grove, with Bob Hope hosting the awards. The 1953 Golden Globe awards were presented at the hotel.
Loyce Whiteman, singer for the Cocoanut Grove Orchestra, recalled, "the most beautiful thing about the Grove is that they stood in front of you when you sang and just swayed to the music. Joan Crawford would stand at the stand and sing a couple of choruses with the band. It was a house full of stars."
Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
On June 5, 1968, the winner of the California Democratic presidential primary election, United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy, gave a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel to supporters. After the speech in the Embassy Room, Kennedy was shot three times along with five other people in the pantry area of the hotel's main kitchen soon after midnight. Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan was arrested at the scene and later convicted of the murder. Kennedy died the following day at Good Samaritan Hospital; the other victims all survived. During the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel in late 2005 and early 2006, portions of the area where the 1968 shooting occurred were eliminated from the site. The section of Wilshire Boulevard in front of the hotel has been signed the "Robert F. Kennedy Parkway".
Decline and closure
The death of Robert F. Kennedy marked the demise of the hotel coinciding with the decline of the surrounding neighborhood during the late 1960s and 1970s. The area also saw a surge of illegal drugs, poverty, and gang activity infiltrating the Wilshire corridor. Under the direction of Sammy Davis, Jr., the “Now Grove” replaced the classic Cocoanut Grove in 1970 in order to appeal to a modern nightclub crowd. However, patrons lost interest in both the hotel and the neighborhood surrounding it, which caused the Ambassador Hotel to fall into disrepair throughout the years. The Ambassador Hotel closed to guests in 1989, but it remained opened for filming and hosting private events. In 1991, Donald Trump, who had bought the hotel in hopes of tearing it down to build a 125-story building, sold off silver serving platters with the hotel's eagle-topped crest, tiki-style soup bowls from the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and beds and nightstands from the rooms.
From 2004 and 2005, the Ambassador Hotel became the topic of a legal struggle between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which planned to clear the site and construct a school on the property, and the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, who wanted the hotel and its various elements preserved and integrated into the future school.
The Location Managers Guild organized an event together with the Jefferson High School Academy of Film and Television in March 2005, entitled Last Looks: The Ambassador Hotel. They mentored students in script breakdown and location scouting, using the hotel as a potential location to be scouted, documenting the property one last time. The images taken by both the students and the professionals were then exhibited side by side at Los Angeles City Hall.
After much litigation, a settlement was attained at the end of August 2005, allowing the demolition to begin in exchange for the establishment of a $4.9 million fund, reserved for saving historic school buildings in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
On September 10, 2005, a final public auction was held for the remaining fittings in the hotel's parking lot, with demolition commencing soon afterwards. On January 16, 2006, the last section of the Ambassador Hotel fell, leaving only the annex that housed the hotel's entrance, shopping arcade, coffee shop, and the Cocoanut Grove, which were promised to be preserved in some manner and integrated within the new school. A ceremony commemorating the demolition of the hotel was held across the street on February 2, 2006, at the H.M.S. Bounty restaurant, located on the ground floor of the Gaylord Apartments.
The Cocoanut Grove was renovated several times before, which destroyed much of its architectural integrity. It was promised that it would undergo yet another major transformation before becoming the auditorium for the new school. Also promised was preservation of the attached ground floor coffee shop, designed by architect Paul Williams. Studies by the LAUSD determined that the integrity of the Cocoanut Grove was weaker than anticipated and that they could neither use it within the planned school nor move it without risking its destruction. In 2004, the LAUSD board voted in favor of demolishing most of the Cocoanut Grove, retaining only the hotel entrance and east wall of the Grove. Litigation between the district and the Los Angeles Conservancy, which had sought to preserve the Ambassador Hotel, was settled out of court on December 18, 2007; demolition began on January 22, 2008.
The six schools were named as the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. The K–3 facility opened on September 9, 2009, and the 4–8 and high school facility began operation on September 14, 2010. The north side of the new school has a slightly similar appearance to the original facade of the hotel and north lawns will remain much the same, as seen from Wilshire Boulevard.
The Ambassador Hotel was a filming location and backdrop for movies and television programs, starting with Jean Harlow's 1933 film Bombshell. An early MGM color short film, Starlit Days at the Lido (1935), was filmed in the Lido Spa at the Ambassador Hotel. In the 1980s and early 2000s, the hotel was filmed in Forrest Gump, Murder, She Wrote, Beverly Hills 90210, S.W.A.T., The Italian Job, Blow, Mafia!, and much more. This was because the hotel had various rooms that could be utilized in filming without interference from hotel guests.[original research?] It was also used in period films such as Almost Famous, Apollo 13, Catch Me If You Can, Hoffa, and That Thing You Do.
The interactive movie/game based on the 1995 film "Johnny Mnemonic" was filmed here with a $3 million budget.
The last project filmed in the Ambassador Hotel's kitchen was "Spin the Bottle", a 2004 episode of the TV series Angel. The 2006 film Bobby was the last project to film on the hotel property, gaining access in late 2005 to film crucial establishing shots even while portions of the hotel were already in the process of being demolished.
The Cocoanut Grove hosted musician Roy Orbison and several performers on September 30, 1987 for the television special Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, first shown on Cinemax on January 3, 1988. Rock band Linkin Park held their press photo shoot for their 2003 album Meteora at the hotel. Guns N' Roses filmed the music video for their song, "Patience", in the hotel in 1989. R&B singer Chuckii Booker filmed the music video for his song "Games" from the album Niice 'n Wiild at the hotel in 1992. The hotel also served as the filming location for the music video of the 1997 Marilyn Manson single "Long Hard Road Out of Hell" off the soundtrack for the Todd McFarlane motion picture Spawn. Rock band 311 used the lobby of hotel as the backdrop for a photo shoot of the album cover of their 2003 album Evolver. In November 1997, punk-rock band Green Day filmed the music video to the song "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" in the hotel.
- "Nineteen-Twenty in Retrospect". The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal. 92: 11. 1921.
- "The Ambassador Hotel". seeing-stars.com. Gary Wayne. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
- Not stated. "Ambassador Hotel (Demolished)". laconservancy.com. The Los Angeles Conservancy. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
- Not stated. "Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Alan Michelson. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
- Alleman, Richard (6 March 2013). Hollywood: The Movie Lover's Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. Crown Publishing Group. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-8041-3777-5.
- Shep Fields Obituary - Shep Fields with Veloz & Yolanda at the Ambassador Hotel in 1934 - United Press International Feb. 23, 1981 on UPI.com/Archive
- Shep Fields Obituary -Shep Fields with Veloz & Yolanda at the Ambassador Hotel in 1934 United Press International Feb. 23, 1981 on UPI.com/Archive
- Not stated (December 13, 2017). "The Ambassador Hotel & Cocoanut Grove". findinglosangeles.com. Finding Lost Angeles. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
- "The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles". The Ambassador Hotel.com. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
- Burk, Margaret T. (1980). Are the Stars Out Tonight? The Story of the Famous Ambassador and Cocoanut Grove, "Hollywood's Hotel". Round Table West. ISBN 978-0-937-80600-5.
- Knowles, Mark (May 2009). The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. McFarland & Company. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-786-43708-5.
- Staff writer (December 21, 2013). "Six Big Band singers reminisce". YouTube. YouTube, LLC. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
- Faith, William Robert (April 2003). Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy. Da Capo Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-306-81207-1.
- "Correspondents Announce Film Award Winners". Los Angeles Times. 27 February 1953. p. 2.
- Harris, Erin Mahoney (November 2010). Walking L.A.: 38 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed. ReadHowYouWant.com. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-4596-0809-2.
- Dimassa, Cara M. (2 September 2005). "For Sale: Stardust Memories". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
- Reynolds, Christopher (16 December 2005). "Remains of the day". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
- Streeter, Kurt (11 September 2005). "Ambassador Has Its Final Checkout". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
- Meares, Hadley (June 21, 2013). "The Gaylord Apartments: Luxury, Socialism, and L.A.'s First Failed Co-op". Departures. KCET. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
- Larrubia, Evelyn (January 16, 2008). "Deal seals fate of Cocoanut Grove". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 16, 2021. Retrieved December 16, 2021.
- Facilities Services Division (26 February 2010). "Project Details: Central LA New Learning Center #1 K-3, 55.98046A". Los Angeles Unified School District. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
- Facilities Services Division (26 February 2010). "Project Details: Central LA New Learning Center #1 MS/HS, 55.98046". Los Angeles Unified School District. Archived from the original on 27 August 2010. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
- Bratkovich, Colin (2014). Just Remember This. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-483-64517-9.
- Nichols, Chris (22 January 2014). "Movies Filmed at the Ambassador Hotel". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
- Commentary. Episode "Spin the Bottle". Angel, Season 4 DVD set.
- Levy, Emanuel. "Ambassador Hotel and Bobby: Robert Kennedy's Assassination". Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
- Louvau, Jim (May 30, 2013). "Marilyn Manson: "I Like to Smoke and Hang Out with the Gangsta Rappers"". Phoenix New Times. Voice Media Group. Archived from the original on March 19, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
- Evolver : Album Cover Photo Shoot, archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2019-09-07
- Image of the Ambassador Hotel, aerial view, Los Angeles, California, 1986. Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive (Collection 1429). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.