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.