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."


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