Friday, September 24, 2004

Saving the Ambassador

Urgent message from the Los Angeles Conservancy:

As the Los Angeles Conservancy's Director of Preservation Issues, I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks to you for your past work and letter-writing on behalf of preserving the Ambassador Hotel from demolition, and to ask you to do everything you can to be present at tomorrow's crucial hearing on the fate of the Ambassador. Despite LAUSD staff's proposal to demolish all of the hotel structures except for the Cocoanut Grove, this plan is not a "done deal": as Los Angeles-area residents, we need to make clear that we simply won't stand for demolition of this important historic site.

This Tuesday (September 28th) at 4:30 p.m., Board of Education members will begin discussing the Ambassador issue: it's therefore critical that a large turnout from the public convincingly show them that Los Angeles does care about its history. In two weeks, on October 12, the L.A. Board of Education will take its final vote on whether to endorse LAUSD's plan or to reconsider reusing the hotel as part of a new educational campus. Since this Tuesday's meeting is the last scheduled discussion before the vote, NOW IS THE TIME to show your support for preserving the Ambassador!

The Los Angeles Conservancy and the citywide A+ Coalition therefore need you to attend these two key public hearings to support the meaningful preservation of the Ambassador Hotel as the centerpiece of a much-needed new school:

4:30 pm
Board of Education Headquarters
333 S. Beaudry Avenue, 1st Floor
Downtown Los Angeles


3:30 pm
Board of Education Headquarters
333 S. Beaudry Avenue, 1st Floor
Downtown Los Angeles

Located just west of the Harbor (110) Freeway downtown at 3rd Street. Limited street parking available; paid parking available in lots at 3rd Street and Boylston.

To speak at either hearing, you must sign up by calling the Board office at (213) 241-7002. Because the major public hearing on the Ambassador was held last week, it's very possible that the limited speaker slots for this week's hearing will already be taken. Also, if you spoke at the hearing on September 23, you cannot speak again. But YOU DON'T NEED TO SPEAK TO MAKE AN IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE. The Board needs to see as many people as possible standing in support of preserving the hotel in order to understand that the public cares about this issue: if supporters of the Ambassador don't show up, the hotel truly will be "history". If you work during the day, come after work. If you have child care issues, know that kids are welcome at Board of Education meetings. And, please bring your friends and colleagues who care about preserving Los Angeles' history, and pass this message along to others.

If you have questions about either hearing, please call the L.A. Conservancy at (213) 623-2489. For more details about the Ambassador Hotel issue, including a fuller action alert with more information about LAUSD's plans, please visit

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Ambassador Update

LAUSD supt. Roy Romer unveiled on Saturday his plans for the Ambassador hotel site... and, as the L.A. Times notes, although it saves some portions of the hotel, most will be demolished.

This was what the LA Conservancy and fans of the old, historically significant hotel were afraid of.

First, the good news: Portions of the Embassy Ballroom, where presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy gave his last speech in 1968 before he was mortally wounded in a hotel kitchen pantry nearby, would be saved and reinstalled in a library elsewhere on the property.

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub, where movie stars mingled and Hollywood's brightest stars performed, would be restored to its original Moorish design, abandoned years ago. It would become the school's main auditorium.

Most of the arcade of shops directly beneath it would be kept; the Paul Williams-designed coffee shop, among the more significant architectural elements of the property, would be preserved as a teachers lounge, and other shops would serve as the entrance to a middle and upper school cafeteria.

But, on the other hand, the view of the hotel will be fake: LAUSD wants to demolish the structure and create a new facade that duplicates the look of the six-story hotel.

Also, the bungalows will be demolished (although even the Conservancy compromised on that, admitting that they couldn't save everything) and the hotel's grand lobby will be gone.

The Board of Education will vote on the proposal in the next month or so. If its members approve and there are no legal impediments, officials said, the kindergarten-through-third-grade portion of the school could open as early as 2008, and the rest a year later...

But the plan, which will be formally unveiled this week, is already generating criticism.

Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which has pushed the district to save most of the hotel, called the plan "an amputation of the Ambassador."

He likened it to Disney's artificial re-creations of history at its theme parks. "We all love Disneyland," Bernstein said, "but we'd rather not learn how to read and write there."

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Down to the Wire

The battle over the fate of the Ambassador Hotel heats up next week, as LAUSD superintendant Ray Romer is expected to announce the school district's plans for the site.

Hoping to sway the school board vote, the L.A. Conservancy announced Friday that the site could be eligible for as much as $39.4 million in federal tax credits, which would help bridge the gap between the price tag of a new structure (between $286 mill and $293 mill) and rehabbing the existing, historic structue (between $326 mill and $381 mill).

Writes the L.A. Times: The school district is expected to announce its plan next week for turning the Ambassador into a 4,200-student school and community park. That long-awaited decision comes after years of debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations over the fate of the historic hotel where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot, movie stars mingled and presidents slept.

The Ambassador sits on a vast swath of land, almost 23 acres, in an area of town where open space is scarce and the population is dense. Los Angeles Unified School District officials estimate that 3,800 students are bused from the neighborhood each day because the schools nearby are too crowded.

But the Ambassador also is one of the last intact vestiges of old L.A., an empress dowager of a hotel that once drew celebrities, politicians and foreign leaders through its doors. It closed in 1989.

The hotel, said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, "is one of Los Angeles' defining historical sites."

For that reason, as well as for its architectural significance, the Myron Hunt-designed hotel qualifies for federal tax credits, she said.
Friday's announcement, just a few days before Supt. Roy Romer will announce his choice among five proposals for the reuse of the site, was meant in part to pressure the Los Angeles Board of Education, which will vote on the proposals soon after.

Dishman said she believed Romer's choice will be to destroy "all but a handful of pieces of the original hotel." The tax credits, said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues at the conservancy, represented a challenge to the district to rehabilitate the site.