Monday, September 13, 2010

Amabassador Cam: Robert F. Kennedy Schools and Pocket Park Finally Open

The LAUSD is finally taking down that ugly chain link fence in front of the Ambassador Hotel site -- making the new street-level "Robert F. Kennedy Inspiration Park" open to the public.

The new park is unveiled just as the long-in-the-making Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex officially opens its doors today.

The new schools, which sit on the land where the Ambassador Hotel once stood -- have been controversial, and not just because of how the hotel was razed. The Wall Street Journal just wrote a scathing editorial on the complex's price tag, including the park (pegged at $4.9 million).

Here's how LAUSD describes the park, via the Wilshire Center Business Improvement District:
The Kennedy Inspiration Park occupies a 19,000-square-foot section of the site fronting Wilshire Boulevard. The park slopes downward from the busy street, preserving views of the school buildings from the street, terminating in a focal stainless steel wall designed by artists May Sun and Richard Wyatt. The rectangular sheet is etched with an image of Robert F. Kennedy in sandstone and displays an array of inspiring quotes from champions of social justice. The idea is to create a space that encourages contemplation of Kennedy's legacy of social justice. The park also provides spaces for eating lunch, playing chess and quiet contemplation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Before and After Shots of the Ambassador Site

Theresa Inman has been chronicling the fall of the old Ambassador Hotel and the rise of the new school on the site, and periodically sending us some of her great documentation. (She also last year kindly purchased our Ambassador Hotel table, which we ultimately didn't have room for.)

Tess just sent us some great new pics she took of the school -- along with "before" shots of the old hotel's ruins. ABOVE, a pic of the hotel from the early 1950s, along with a shot of the hotel (taken from the same spot) on April 24, 2010.

A relief seen on Wilshire Blvd. -- on March 26, 2006 and then after restoration work, on April 23, 2010.

East side of the Ambassador Hotel in an undated photo; the building, in mid-demolition, in November 2005; and the East side of the new school, on April 24, 2010.

Base of the fountain, on March 26, 2006; and then, restored, on April 24, 2010.

Thanks to Tess Inman for the pics!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ambassador Cam, #45 in a series

It's been a while since we last checked in with the old Ambassador Hotel site -- and wow, has a lot changed.

The Wilshire-adjacent sidewalk park is shaping up, the building's outer shell is nearly done, and (below) the original driveway entrance way is nearly done with its restoration.

If we're looking for a silver lining in the sad destruction of the Ambassador, we can at least look to this. Having been covered up in the 1970s by a hideous new sign (touting the hotel and the "Now Grove" concept), it's nice to have this back.

Now, of course, I wonder how long it's going to take until that statue is vandalized or stolen. So let's appreciate it while it lasts.

Meanwhile, occupancy for the new "Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools" is still set for this fall.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dining with the Ambassador: Rare Look at an Old Cocoanut Grove Menu

Thanks to regular Franklin Avenue reader Tess -- who's a huge Ambassador Hotel buff (she even bought an Ambassador table I had to unload) -- we get these cool images of an old Cocoanut Grove menu.

The menu dates all the way back to March 4, 1945. It's pretty fascinating to see just how differently restaurant goers ate back then -- bleech. Lucky we live in modern times.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ambassador Cam, #44 in a series

One final look this year at the new high school on the Ambassador Hotel site -- still without a name -- as it moves closer to completion. (The school is set to open in fall 2010.)

Here's the updated info on the site, from the LAUSD:

This project is the second phase of improvements for a comprehensive K-12 learning center being constructed at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel in the Mid-Wilshire District of Los Angeles. This project will provide 1,000 new middle school seats, 2,440 new high school seats, construction of a public park, restoration of the Cocoanut Grove and pylon structures, athletic facilities, and two-thirds of the site-wide methane mitigation system. Ultimate improvement of the Cocoanut Grove will include a 500-seat auditorium, and the restored Paul R. Williams Coffee Shop to be used as the staff/teacher lounge. This phase also provides four of the six commissioned art pieces for the site-wide public art program, commemorating the Ambassador Hotel's cultural and social history. The budget for the K-3 facility is included in the total budget for this project.

The school district cut the ribbon on the site's K-5 school back in October. The official press release:
CLALC#1 K-5 opened to more than 800 students on September 9, 2009.

"My father was a champion of those who suffered disadvantages in America. He was actively engaged in helping people help themselves through community action," said Maxwell Kennedy, son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy. "This new K-12 learning center will educate and empower our young people and their parents to fight for economic and social justice. I know of no better way to advance the living legacy of Robert Kennedy."

"The messages Robert F. Kennedy worked to deliver to us decades ago - that we can all be part of a change for a better world, a greater world - are alive with us as we celebrate the opening of not one, but two exciting new pilot schools here at Central Los Angeles Learning Center #1 K-5," Board President García said. "Years of commitment and struggle led by parents and the community come to fruition today as we mark profound change for students that now have two unique small schools dedicated to incorporating new and innovative methods of teaching."

The new elementary school site features two pilot schools (schools within the LAUSD given charter-like autonomy over curriculum): University California Los Angeles (UCLA) Community School (UCS) and New Open World (NOW) Academy. Both schools provide students with an opportunity to continue their education on the same school site once the middle and high school portions of the larger campus are completed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ambassador Cam, #43

Construction on the LAUSD's $572 million new high school on the site of the old Ambassador Hotel continues. The district says the new school (still unnamed) is on tap to open in fall 2010. Here's the fact sheet for the construction, which will encompass 391,840 square feet.

And here's the latest LAUSD monthly program status report on the project:
-- The Phase I K-3 project is currently 83% complete and is on schedule for occupancy in fall 2009. The methane mitigation system and underground utility rough-ins are complete. Classroom framing is complete; utility rough-ins are complete and interior fixtures and finishes are nearly complete. The structures for the central plant and parking facility are complete and finishes are nearly complete.

-- Delivery and installation of central plant equipment is complete and initial commissioning steps are underway. Site retaining walls and other structures are nearly complete. Permanent power is expected by the first week in March.

The school promises to deliver 1,000 new middle school seats and 2,440 new high school seats.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ambassador Cam, #42

A year after the destruction of the final piece of the Ambassador Hotel (the Cocoanut Grove, which had survived the initial tear-down), here's what's now on the site. So far, the frame looks a lot like the old hotel, as if it had been stripped to its studs.

According to the LAUSD's December "Monthly Program Status Report" for new construction, here's the latest news from the site:

• The Phase I K-3 project is currently 70% complete and is scheduled for occupancy in fall 2009. The methane mitigation system and underground utility rough-ins are complete. Classroom framing is complete, utility rough-ins are complete, and interior finishes are well under way. The structures for the central plant and parking facility are complete and finishes have commenced. Delivery and installation of central plant equipment is well under way. Site retaining walls and other structures are well under way.

• The MS/HS project is 38% complete, with school occupancy scheduled for fall 2010. Underground utilities, methane mitigation system and building foundations are nearly complete. Structural steel framing is complete, with a traditional "topping out" ceremony scheduled for November 21, 2008. Fireproofing, utility rough-ins and interior framing are well under way. Site retaining walls are well under way. Off-site work is well under way.

Meanwhile, here's the view from Catalina Street.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ambassador Cam, #41: The Skeleton Rises

So far, the new building mimics the footprint of the old Ambassador (but what a sad sight). They continue to move fast on the construction.

The Ambassador entryway pillar, now under wraps.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ambassador Cam, #40: Construction Pace Quickens

After months of waiting, the skeleton of the new school complex is really rising fast at the Ambassador site. Curbed LA has more on the new Robert F. Kennedy pocket park (which will take up just 1/3 acre off Wilshire) here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ambassador Cam, #39: The Skeleton Rises

As the LAUSD prepares to break ground on a new, tiny pocket park and Bobby Kennedy memorial at the Ambassador site (see Curbed LA for full details), construction has already begun on what appears to be the high school portion of the site's three-school complex.

Curbed L.A. had more details last month:

The scope of the project includes a K-3 School, a 4-8 Middle School, and a High School, for a total of 4,624 students. The 92,000-square-foot K-3 building will accommodate 1,150 seats within 46 classrooms on three floors. The school will be located on the Ambassador Hotel site. The 4-8/High School building will accommodate 3,474 seats within 130 classrooms on six floors. The area is 382,000 square feet, and the rehabilitated Cocoanut Grove building is an additional 48,410 square feet of enclosed and covered areas.

The proposed subterranean parking structure will accommodate a total of 442 parking spaces on two levels for faculty and administrative staff. Playfields for the proposed 4-8/HS will be constructed above the parking structure. The scope also includes construction of a gymnasium building. This structure will accommodate the gymnasium court for grades 6-8 and Central Plant equipment on the first floor, and a gymnasium court for grades 9-12 on the upper level. This is one of the first LAUSD schools with an extensive public art program.

Yes, you'll notice that the main, high school building has been designed to emulate the old Ambassador. But it's pretty much a token gesture.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ambassador Cam: New School, Coming in 2010

I've actually been meaning to post this for months, but never had the camera handy... so here goes, the recently revised LAUSD poster for "Central LA New Learning Center #1" -- a.k.a. the Ambassador Hotel school.

Remember when the old drawings for the school made it look virtually identical to the Ambassador? Obviously those plans are long gone, as the school is looking much more modern these days. Not that I object -- attempting to create a fake Ambassador facade is pointless; the real building is gone.

Also, as you can see, the opening date has now been pushed back to fall 2010; until recently, the goal date was fall 2009. Again, makes sense, since actual construction has yet to begin.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed the Angels Walk markers that are all over downtown have now made their way to the Mid-Wilshire area. Starting with MacArthur Park, the signs continue west on Wilshire (until at least Western). Below, the Ambassador Hotel marker -- which just missed being installed in front of the actual Ambassador by two years. (LA Observed's Kevin Roderick handles the text; Kevin, of course, wrote the "Wilshire Boulevard" book.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ambassador Cam, #37

Cocoanut Grove demolition, Feb. 13, 2008, 10 a.m.

The demolition continues today...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

That's All, Folks!

(Photo by Tod Tamberg, by way of LA Observed.)

And so it goes. The ghosts of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., the Academy Awards and the hundreds and hundreds of others who once graced the stage of the Cocoanut Grove now have no place to go.

As LA Observed reports, the final tear down of the Ambassador Hotel has begun.

As you're well aware, the final challenge to the LAUSD wound down at the end of last year, paving the way for the school district to tear down the last remaining part of the hotel.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ambassador Cam, #36

Ambassador remains, 9:45 a.m., January 22, 2008

It's possibly all over today, as the remaining pieces of the Ambassador -- mostly what's left of the Cocoanut Grove -- are demolished. We've already paid our final respects to the grand old hotel via the Ambassador Hotel wake two years ago; now it's time to let it go, I suppose.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Ambassador's Truly Last Stand

(Pic thanks to Franklin Avenue reader Theresa Inman)

The L.A. Conservancy has given up the fight to try to save the final standing elements of the Ambassador Hotel -- including the remaining pieces of the famed Cocoanut Grove (above, seen during an Academy Awards ceremony). The L.A. Times had the details on Wednesday:

Ending perhaps its most contentious battle over a new campus, the Los Angeles Unified School District will pay $4 million to fund historic school conservation in exchange for the Los Angeles Conservancy dropping a lawsuit that sought to preserve the once-glitzy Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the former Ambassador Hotel.

"We still continue to believe that it was feasible to save the hotel," said Linda Dishman, the conservancy's executive director. "At this point, we as an organization want to move on. What's left at the Ambassador site is not really historic preservation at this point, and there's a lot of other buildings we can focus on."

The settlement will allow the school system to demolish most of the Cocoanut Grove's structure and begin building a sprawling, 4,200-student K-12 campus on the site, which it had been eyeing for a school for decades.

"It is my greatest hope that this puts the whole saga finally to an end," said Kevin Reed, the district's general counsel. He said the district would have won the lawsuit, but decided to end the case so the $566-million project could continue on schedule. The first of the schools, a K-3 building, is slated to open in 2009.

Such a move was inevitable; as you can see below (in a picture taken in October), there just wasn't much left anyway. As so this sad chapter in L.A. preservation comes to a close. The remaining portion of the Ambassador will be torn down on Jan. 22.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cocoanut Grove Demolition Halted -- For Now

Some movement on the Cocoanut Grove (well, what's left of it) preservation front: The L.A. Times writes that the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to temporarily halt demolition of the famed nightclub:
The Los Angeles Conservancy sought to halt the wrecking ball until a judge had time to rule on whether the district was breaking the law by tearing the club down...

In a second, related matter, the conservancy dropped its call for an injunction to bar the district from destroying items collected from the hotel's pantry, the site of the 1968 assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

The district said the matter was moot, as it has no plans to destroy the items, including electrical fixtures.

Demolition is halted until at least February, when a hearing will discuss the conservancy's allegations.

The L.A. Conservancy has filed suit over the decision to tear down the Cocoanut Grove -- which originally was slated to be saved, even as the rest of the Ambassador Hotel was sadly torn down.

Adds the paper:
The district also quietly destroyed the pantry but saved fixtures, sections of the structure, and the ice machine, and 3-D imagery was taken of the room.

Those moves led to the current lawsuit, in which the conservancy alleges that the district hasn't proven that its only option is to tear down and replicate the club and that it improperly handled the pantry. The district said it discovered that the pantry would crumble if it were moved in one piece and that its method of preservation was better.

Meanwhile, Hensel Phelps has been contracted to build the middle school, high school, auditorium and other structures on the 24-acre site for $566 million.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Cocoanut Grove's Last Stand

Cocoanut Grove at its peak. Of course, by the 1970s, Sammy Davis had turned the room into the cheesy, disco-ish "Now Grove." Which is how it pretty much remained to the end.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to Franklin Avenue and Ambassador's Last Stand readers, but it's now official: Most of the last remnants of the fabled Cocoanut Grove structure -- part of the last remaining pieces of the 1921 hotel still standing after last year's demolition -- will be torn down shortly.

As I noted back in November, the L.A. Unified School District had posted signs at the Ambassador site, noting that it felt the original plan to preserve the Cocoanut Grove structure was no longer feasible:

The "Notice of Preparation, Supplement to Final Environmental Impact Report" reads: The 2004 FEIR included mitigation measures for the adaptive reuse of the Cocoanut Grove as an auditorium subject to structural materials testing. Based upon extensive testing and evaluation by the District's structural engineer, consultants and staff, the District determined that it is technically infeasible to retain and reuse all of the features that were described in the 2004 FEIR due to their age and degraded and unstable condition.

Now, the L.A. Times reports that the LAUSD board voted 7-0 to approve the changes -- and tear down what's left of the old Cocoanut Grove. Demolition begins next month; the paper notes that the new school should be completed by 2010:

In a state-mandated environmental impact report, the district acknowledged that the property was historically significant. To mitigate the impact of tearing most of it down, L.A. Unified said it would preserve the pantry where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and keep the Cocoanut Grove, turning it into a high school auditorium.

In public statements and during court proceedings, the district said it would cut out the pantry and preserve it whole. Officials said those plans were based on a review of blueprints and visual inspection of the site.

But under current plans, only the east wall, the circular entry and a portion of the glass west wall of the nightclub and historic Paul Williams cafeteria will not be destroyed, along with some interior features that were removed and will be incorporated into the design. As for the pantry, L.A. Unified decided in 2005 that the district would collect 29 items from it -- mostly doors, electrical items and an ice machine -- put them in storage, and tear down the rest of it.

According to a supplemental environmental impact report approved by the board Tuesday, testing found that the concrete connections were inadequate and the cement content and strength of the concrete were too low in most of the Cocoanut Grove.

Shoring the walls would take up so much space that ceilings would be low and hallways too narrow for the area to be functional, said Jim Cowell, the outgoing head of new construction for the district. Instead, the district will tear down the concrete walls and build new ones in the same place, move the stage and slope the floor, so the nightclub can work as an auditorium. The east wing was stronger than the rest of the building, so the structural elements there will be maintained.

Another nail in the coffin, I suppose, but since the Ambassador has already been buried, all I can do is once again sigh.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What Could Have Been (And Thankfully Wasn't): The Doomed Ambassador International Project

"Ambassador International"

Talk about a fascinating find: Franklin Avenue reader Steven dug up these old drawings from 1957 of an ill-fated plan to completely re-develop the Ambassador Hotel site. (Above, a drawing of the proposed site. That's Wilshire Blvd. in front, and yes, the hotel here has been complete rebuilt and turned 90 degrees.)

Fifty years before bulldozers finally tore down the Ambassador for good, plans were already in the works to do the same thing, but replace it with a new, streamlined Ambassador Hotel surrounded by high-rises.

Yup, it looks like the Ambassador narrowly avoided its fate several times before disappearing last year. The so-called "Ambassador International" project, with its several high rises, also reminds one of Donald Trump's failed plans to build the world's tallest building there.

A night shot of the proposed development.

Steve writes in:

I've been following the dismantling of the Ambassador on your site with great sadness. I worked next door at what was then Tishman Plaza at 3440 Wilshire beginning in 1971. The monthly parking fee there was a bit too steep (when you're starting at $85 a week), but I found a lot just east of the Ambassador, off Catalina where 7th St. dead-ends at the grounds, where parking was only $8 a month. So, every morning, I crossed the grounds and went through the hotel lobby and the little arcade of shops, and out the main entrance to get to my office. That and the walk back
through in the evening were my favorites parts of the day. That parking lot can still be seen (as can the intact hotel itself, bungalows and all) on Google Earth. I rather hope they never get around to updating those images.

Yes, I know; all terribly exciting. But my main purpose here is to share some renderings from 1957 of a project called Ambassador International, which, mercifully, never got off the ground. They serve to illustrate that the LAUSD project which ultimately led to its demise was not the
first threat the Ambassador faced, and I thought you might find them interesting..

Beyond interesting, Steven, and thanks for sharing with us.

Now, here are the renderings of how the Ambassador International would have been built, in three phases:

Phase one: A new hotel lobby is built, as well as a new chunk of hotel off the existing Ambassador's north wing. An office building replaces the northeast bungalows.

Phase two: More office buildings, including one that takes over a chunk of the south east wing. The new hotel arm off the old hotel's north wing gets larger.

Phase three: Even more office buildings, while the old Ambassador is destroyed (and the new one completed).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

AMBASSADOR UPDATE: The Cocoanut Grove to be Demolished As Well

So much for even the L.A. Unified School District's token attempt at preservation at the Ambassador site.

As you know, most of the Ambassador was torn down earlier this year, as the LAUSD plans to build a new school complex where the historic hotel once stood. But as a tiny consolation prize, the school district agreed to save the famed Cocoanut Grove and refashion it into the school's auditorium.

More recently, rumors started to swirl that plans to salvage the Cocoanut Grove was lip service. And anyone who's passed by the Ambassador site can see (above) that the old nightclub has already been mostly gutted.

Now, Franklin Avenue reader Kevin emails us about signs that have popped up in front of the Ambassador site:

Mike & Maria,

I was driving by the Ambassador tonight & saw a few of these attached to the fence.

It looks like there will be very little, if anything, reused of the Cocoanut Grove.

It does seem that there is the opportunity to give written comment on LAUSD's desire not to have to revise the EIR.

The "Notice of Preparation, Supplement to Final Environmental Impact Report" reads: The 2004 FEIR included mitigation measures for the adaptive reuse of the Cocoanut Grove as an auditorium subject to structural materials testing. Based upon extensive testing and evaluation by the District's structural engineer, consultants and staff, the District determined that it is technically infeasible to retain and reuse all of the features that were described in the 2004 FEIR due to their age and degraded and unstable condition. In view of the potential changes in the retention and reuse of the Cocoanut Grove, LAUSD is preparing a Supplement to the 2004 FEIR to document these changes.

Written comments and responses are being accepted through Dec. 15, via fax (213-893-7412), email (, or regular mail (Barbara Wu, LAUSD Office of Environmental Health and Safety, 1055 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, 90017).

I know what most of you are probably thinking: Yeah, well, if the building is unsound, then of course it should be torn down. But for those of us already stung by the decision to knock the Ambassador down, this just adds more salt to that wound.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Virtual Ambassador Hotel

In marketing the new Emilio Estevez-helmed "Bobby" -- about Robert Kennedy's final moments -- the producers have wisely realized that the Ambassador Hotel is one of the film's major characters.

Sadly, it's the Ambassador's final role. The hotel, which has appeared in countless films, was demolished right after "Bobby" finished shooting -- making Estevez the last filmmaker to roam the classic hotel's halls.

The Weinstein Co., which is releasing the film, has added a cool Ambassador-themed section to the "Bobby" website, located at The site includes a computer-generated 360-degree view of the Ambassador lobby, as well as a guestbook and New York Times front pages leading up to the death of Bobby Kennedy.

The filmmakers have also launched a Flickr group (at, where people can upload shots they may have of the Ambassador.

Above, a screen grab of the computer-depicted Ambassador lobby, including the famous water fountain. Below, here's a real-life shot of the lobby water fountain I took in 2003:

And the water fountain, as it sadly searched for a new home at last year's Ambassador auction:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ambassador Site Breaks Ground

It's been nearly a year since the Ambassador Hotel was demolished. Now, groundbreaking on the new school complex that will be built on the historic hotel's remains finally took place Monday. (Above, the latest rendering of what the high school will look like.)

The L.A. Times writes:

The price tag, estimated at $309 million, has jumped more than 14% in recent months after the discovery of potentially explosive methane gas deposits beneath the site that will require an elaborate mitigation plan. And, unless staggering increases in construction costs that have persisted in Los Angeles abate, the final cost of the school could climb higher, district officials said.

Guests at Monday's ceremony, however, were not talking about money. It was a day of celebration and photo ops replete with golden shovels for tossing dirt. Speakers, including Councilmen Herb Wesson and Jose Huizar, repeatedly praised recently departed Supt. Roy Romer and school board members for shepherding the project forward despite preservation groups who fought to save the historic hotel.

"There could be no better memorial to my father than a living memorial that educates the children of this city," said an emotional Max Kennedy, speaking from a plateau of tightly packed dirt on the 24-acre construction site, overlooking the remains of buildings where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

Not much is left of the original hotel. And rumors are swirling that the LAUSD has canceled plans to preserve portions of the Cocoanut Grove and other remaining parts -- that the structures are beyond rehab.

But the LAUSD's most recent Ambassador Progress Report says preservation plans (well, of what little is left) are on going.

That includes:

-- Incorporating the Embassy Ballroom Ceiling (above, left) into the school's library

-- "The historic Cocoanut Grove will be renovated with a complete structural retrofit and modern electrical, HVAC and technological systems to covert it for use as a new auditorium... Additionally, the lower level shopping arcade, including the Paul R. Williams-designed coffee shop, will be used as faculty and student lounges and cafeterias."

-- The Ambassador Hotel pylon sign (above, right) -- uncovered in the demolition after decades of existing under a coffin of concrete -- may be restored. "The District is working with expert advisors and the Historic Monitor to determine a feasible strategy for the preservation of this feature, including considerations for its use as a feature in the public park."

There you have it. Not much. A sad day for those of us who had held on to hope (well, until a year ago) that the hotel could be saved. But the Ambassador ship has now sailed. Let's now hope that the LAUSD can build this new educational center quickly and with no more cost overruns.