Ambassador Hotel (Los Angeles)

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Ambassador Hotel
USA Los-Angeles Ambassador-Hotel.jpg
Ambassador Hotel, 2004.
General information
Location 3400 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
United States
Coordinates 34°03′35″N 118°17′50″W / 34.059646°N 118.297101°W / 34.059646; -118.297101Coordinates: 34°03′35″N 118°17′50″W / 34.059646°N 118.297101°W / 34.059646; -118.297101
Opening 1921
Closed 1989
Design and construction
Architect Myron Hunt
Other information
Number of rooms 500

The Ambassador Hotel was a hotel in Los Angeles, California, and location of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub until it was demolished in 2005. The hotel began operation formally on January 1, 1921, and subsequently was the site of the 2nd Academy Awards, the 12th Academy Awards, and the June 1968 assassination of presidential candidate, United States Senator, and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Background[edit]

The hotel in 1921

The Ambassador Hotel was located at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue, in the center of then defined Mid-Wilshire district, later defined in the present day Koreatown district. It was designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt in an eclectic Mediterranean Revival style with Art Deco elements and signage.

The Ambassador Hotel was frequented by celebrities, some of whom, such as Pola Negri,[1] resided there. From 1930 to 1943, six Academy Awards ceremonies were performed 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, 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, and Richard Pryor.

The hotel served alcoholic beverages during the Prohibition.[2]

1920s[edit]

The lobby

During the 1920s, the Ambassador Hotel's nightclub Cocoanut Grove was frequented by celebrities like Louis B. Mayer, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and 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.[3]

Starting in 1928, Gus Arnheim led the Cocoanut Grove Orchestra. Six to seven songs were sung a night. There was a two-hour broadcast of the orchestra on the radio.[2]

The names of the hotel and its nightclub quickly became synonymous with glamour; "Cocoanut Grove" would become a trendy name for bars and clubs across the United States.

1930s[edit]

During the 1930s the Cocoanut Grove was frequented by celebrities of cinema such as Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, Errol Flynn, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Lana Turner, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers, Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, and countless others. On February 29, 1940, the 1939 Academy Awards Ceremony was held in the Cocoanut Grove, with Bob Hope hosting.[4]

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."[2]

An early MGM color movie short, Starlit Days at the Lido (1935), was filmed at the Lido Spa in the Ambassador, of a lunchtime tea dance featuring the Henry Busse band and vocalists, novelty acts with Arthur Lake), Cliff Edwards and Ben Turpin, chorus girls and reaction shots of "guests," including Francis Lederer, Buster Crabbe, John Boles, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Richard Barthelmess, Constance Bennett, Lili Damita and MC Reginald Denny.[5]

1940s[edit]

During World War II the Ambassador Hotel was used for war fundraisers in Cocoanut Grove and when the war ended, the Cocoanut Grove became a retreat for servicemen, servicewomen, and many movie actors.

Ambassador Hotels System[edit]

The hotel entrance in 1959

The Ambassador Los Angeles was built as part of the Ambassador Hotels System. At the time the hotel opened in January 1921, the chain consisted of the Ambassador Los Angeles, the Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles, the Ambassador Santa Barbara, the Ambassador Atlantic City and the Ambassador New York. The Santa Barbara property burned down soon after on April 13, 1921, and the Alexandria left the chain in 1925, while the Ambassador Palm Beach joined in 1929.

The chain was eventually dissolved in the 1930s. The Ambassador Los Angeles was sold to Schine Hotels. The Ambassador New York was sold and operated independently until 1958, when it was sold to Sheraton Hotels and renamed the Sheraton-East. It was demolished in 1966 for the construction of 345 Park Avenue. The Ambassador Atlantic City was gutted in the late 1970s and converted to the Tropicana Casino & Resort. The Ambassador Palm Beach was sold in 1933 and became the Palm Beach Biltmore, before being converted to condos.

Robert F. Kennedy assassination[edit]

In the pantry area of the hotel's main kitchen, soon after midnight on June 5, 1968, and after a brief victory speech in the Embassy Room ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, the winner of the California Democratic presidential primary election, Senator Robert F. Kennedy (RFK), was shot along with five other people. Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan was arrested at the scene and later convicted of the murder. Kennedy died one day later from his injuries, while the other victims survived their wounds. During the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel during late 2005 and early 2006, portions of the area where the 1968 shooting occurred were eliminated from the site. The portion of Wilshire Boulevard in front of the hotel has been signed the "Robert F. Kennedy Parkway".[6]

Decline and closure[edit]

The death of Robert F. Kennedy coincided with the beginning of the hotel's demise, hastened by the decline of the surrounding neighborhood. By the 1970s, the gang and illegal drug problems in the area near the hotel were already becoming severe, and worsened. Despite a renovation of the Cocoanut Grove in the mid-1970s, with the creative control of Sammy Davis, Jr., the property declined.

The Ambassador Hotel was closed in 1989 to guests, but remained open for filming and private events. A liquidation sale of the hotel's contents was conducted in 1991 by National Content Liquidators Inc. based in Ohio.

Filming/Photography at the hotel[edit]

The hotel was a popular filming location and backdrop for movies and television programs reaching back to 1933 with Jean Harlow's Bombshell. As business declined and was eventually shuttered, it provided a convenient double for modern five star hotels and restaurants from The Graduate to Beverly Hills, 90210, L.A. Story, Pretty Woman, True Romance, The Wedding Singer and many other films. A living time capsule of the period, it was a perfect location to represent 1950-70's period hotels in Almost Famous, Apollo 13, Catch Me If You Can, Hoffa, and That Thing You Do.[7]

The last project to film in the infamous kitchen was the season 4 episode of Angel, "Spin the Bottle", in 2004.[8] Emilio Estevez's film Bobby was the last project to physically film on the hotel property in late 2005, gaining access to film crucial establishing shots even as it was already in the process of being demolished.[9]

Another client of the hotel following its closure was the Los Angeles Police Department, which used the property to train officers in large scale operations requiring the coordination of many officers. Such training was recreated in the film SWAT.

The Cocoanut Grove was recreated for the 2004 movie The Aviator, but no scenes were filmed on the hotel's property. The Hotel was memorialized in the 1999 film The Thirteenth Floor, where it comes to life as the main characters visit 1937 Los Angeles.

The Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove also hosted musician Roy Orbison and several performers for the 1987 television special Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night. Rock band Linkin Park also held their press photo shoot for their 2003 album Meteora at the abandoned 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.[citation needed]

Preserve or demolish[edit]

From 2004 to 2005, the Ambassador Hotel was closed completely and became the topic of a legal struggle between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which wanted to clear the site and build a school; Sirhan Sirhan, who, through his lawyer the late Lawrence Teeter, wanted to conduct more testing in the pantry where Robert F. Kennedy was shot; and the Los Angeles Conservancy and Art Deco Society preservationists, who wanted the hotel and its various elements saved 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.[10]

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.

Demolition[edit]

On September 10, 2005, a final public auction was held for the remaining hotel fittings and work soon began on demolition of the Ambassador Hotel. On January 16, 2006, the last section of the Ambassador fell, with most of the demolition being done during 2005, leaving only the annex that housed the hotel entrance, a shopping arcade, the coffee shop, and the Cocoanut Grove, all of which were promised to be preserved in some manner and used in the new school.

A wake attended by hundreds of people was held for the Ambassador Hotel on February 2, 2006 at the Gaylord Apartments and adjoining restaurant H.M.S. Bounty, both part of a historic building built during 1924, directly across the street from the Ambassador Hotel; Diane Keaton, who was one of many who fought for the preservation of the hotel, was among the speakers of the ceremony.[11]

Cocoanut Grove preservation[edit]

The Cocoanut Grove was renovated several times before, destroying much of its architectural integrity, and 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 noted architect Paul Williams.

Due to claims of poor structural integrity, however, the LAUSD decided to demolish most of the Cocoanut Grove, retaining only the hotel entrance and east wall of the Grove.

2006–2010[edit]

The Central Los Angeles New Learning Center #1 K-3,[12] and Central Los Angeles New Learning Center #1 4–8/HS, along with the Robert F. Kennedy Inspiration Park, were built on the site.[13]

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.

Documentary[edit]

A feature-length documentary film by Camilo Silva, After 68: The Rise and Fall of the Ambassador Hotel,[14] is being made with an estimated release date in 2014.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ a b c "Six Big Band singers reminisce". YouTube. YouTube, LLC. December 21, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2016. 
  3. ^ Knowles, Mark (2009). The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. McFarland. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-7864-5360-3. 
  4. ^ Faith, William Robert (24 April 2009). Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy. Da Capo Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-7867-2902-9. 
  5. ^ Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0292700/combined
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Nichols, Chris. "MoviesFilmed at the Ambassador Hotel". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  8. ^ Commentary. Episode "Spin the Bottle". Angel, Season 4 DVD set.
  9. ^ Levy, Emanuel. "Ambassador Hotel and Bobby: Robert Kennedy's Assassination". Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  10. ^ Reynolds, Christopher (December 16, 2005). "Remains of the day". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  11. ^ Meares, Hadley (June 21, 2013). "The Gaylord Apartments: Luxury, Socialism, and L.A.'s First Failed Co-op". Departures. KCET. Retrieved 19 March 2016. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Saito, Stephen. "A Face in the Crowd: Camilo Silva Saves L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel With 'After 68'". The Moveable Fest. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

Mathison, Dirk (June 1998). "Heartbreak Hotel". Los Angeles Magazine. Emmis Communications: 77–85; 134. ISSN 1522-9149. 

External links[edit]