Ambassador Hotel


We were recently invited to tour the construction site of Central Los Angeles New Learning Center #1, formerly home to the Ambassador Hotel. The 24 acres are being developed into three different schools by the LAUSD after a decades-long preservation battle failed to save the historic hotel. The main building was demolished in 2006, but vestigal remains (very vestigal) were retained and are being restored. Other elements are being recreated, and that’s why I got a call.
Being a collector of vintage Los Angeles ephemera, I had what turned out to be the only color photograph of the Paul R. Williams-designed coffee shop at the hotel in its prime. South Pasadena-based restoration architect Mark Stankard is rebuilding this lost dining area as a teacher’s lounge in the new school and planned to match its 1940s colors and finishes.
During our visit Mark showed off the west wall of the Cocoanut Grove, the entrance canopy, and the original driveway pylons that have been retained and are being restored. The main auditorium, modeled after the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, will be on the same site as the original. Along Wilshire, workers swarmed all over the sign tower, which will once again feature elaborate water jets and a replica of the classical nude sculpture that welcomed visitors. This time she’ll be draped in a “negligee” added by the Denver-area sculptor. Much of the Wilshire frontage, including the driveway, will become a pocket park complete with art installations of tile and benches inspired by the hotel that feature a repeating soundtrack of music from the Grove and ghostly, disembodied memorials from long ago visitors.
Speaking of creepy… When actress Sharon Stone was filming Bobby at the hotel during its demolition, she asked to see the infamous pantry where Robert Kennedy was assassinated. According to Stankard, she fell atop the red X on the floor and flopped around violently for ten minutes, perhaps channeling the late senator. Wow. The School District is still trying to find a place for the salvaged room itself, now in storage in McLean, VA.