Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Thank Goodness for Bureaucracies

Thank Goodness for Bureaucracies
Not to obsess over the Ambassdor Hotel, but it seems to be everywhere I turn these days. According to the Daily News, LAUSD superintendent Roy Romer held a press conference Monday to go over the five different scenarios at the site.

The cheapest, at $286 million, would be to raze the property and build new schools. "Maximum reuse," the L.A. Conservancy's favorite option, clocks in at about $382 million. LAUSD will make its decision in October, which hopefully will be enough time for Eli Broad or someone to step in and donate some money to save this classic building.

By the way, there's some irony in all of this. The LAUSD has been dying to build a school on the site for years, keeping the Ambassador property in legal limbo until about two years ago, when it finally took full control of the property. Had LAUSD not stepped in and tried to steal the land from previous owners (which included Donald Trump), the Ambassador probably would have been torn down a long time ago and replaced with a monstrous skyscraper or big-box shopping mall.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Sleeping with the Ambassador

Last night, we attended Collage Dance Theatre's performance at the Ambassador Hotel. When Mike first told me about this event, I thought he said there was a dance at the Ambassador Hotel. He said we should try to go to it since this may be the only chance we could see the interior of this historic hotel (which shut down in 1989).

We weren't expecting much from the evening save for the chance to check out the hotel and maybe take a few pictures. Turns out, the performance was entertaining. A combination of haunting music, athletic dancing and circus-like performances filled the whole night. Everything seemed nostalgic and I was constantly reminded of how grand the Ambassador was in its heyday.

Part of the performance (which took place throughout the hotel) was held at the famed Cocoanut Grove, but it looked nothing like the old glamorous place it once was. The interior is black, much like any stage you would see if you were seeing a small play. It was a little spooky thinking that RFK was shot just next door from that room, as someone from the show told us later.

The evening concluded in the great lobby where the elegance was still evident. This was where Mike turned loco.

I stood, amused, as he turned into a photo maniac trying to get all he can into our little digital camera. The same digital camera that was full of pictures, which we weren't quite sure if we downloaded them yet or not. We quickly deleted photos to make room for some cool Ambassador shots.

As we were leaving the hotel, we followed a group of people going towards the bungalows. Alas, we were quickly turned away by some guy who said that those areas are hazardous. Upon further probing, he said that whoever goes in will get something worse than SARS.

"Asbestos," I said to Mike. Sure enough, the hazard-nazi did admit that there was asbestos in those buildings -- to which we laughed over his dramatics.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The Ambassador's Last Stand

It's looking more and more like the L.A. Unified School District is planning to tear down the legendary Ambassador Hotel. That would be a shame. Not only is the Ambassador beautiful architechturally, but it's brimming with history. The Ambassador was L.A.'s elite hotel for decades, and virtually every major performer through the 1970s was on stage at its legendary Coconut Grove nightclub. The Ambassador was home of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, Los Angeles’ premier night spot for decades; and host to six Oscar ceremonies and to every U.S. President from Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon (who wrote his 1952 “Checkers” speech at the Ambassador). And most historically, the Ambassador was the site of Bobby Kennedy's assassination.

The Ambassador shut down in the 1980s, a victim of the changing neighborhood. It's been threatened with demolition a number of times-- Donald Trump wanted to build the world's tallest building there in the early 1990s, but then the economy went south. Eventually, the school district--badly in need of new schools--inherited the site.
The Los Angeles Conservancy believes there's a way to convert the building into a school in order to meet the school district's needs but still preserve most of the school. The Coconut Grove, for example, would be the auditorium. The hotel's massive lobby could turn into a student gathering place. And so on. Time's running out, though, but hopefully the LAUSD will do the right thing.

Speaking of RFK and the Ambassador, the L.A. Times' Steve Lopez meets up with Juan Romero. He now labors for a paving company in San Jose. But in 1968 he was a busboy at the Ambassador-- and is the young man you've seen cradling Bobby Kennedy's head in that famous photo taken inside the hotel's kitchen.