Katharine Hepburn once said, “I have many regrets and I’m sure everyone does. The stupid things you do, you regret . . . if you have any sense.” Katharine was right. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never got to see the Ambassador Hotel in person before it was torn down in 2005. I lived in L.A. for a good five years before demolition began on the legendary hotel and am literally kicking myself now for never taking the opportunity to see the hotel with my own two eyes. And now it is too late. Today the hotel is completely gone. It absolutely sickens me that this rare piece of Los Angeles history has vanished from our skyline. 😦 I asked Mike, from MovieShotsLA, if he had ever visited the Ambassador while it was still standing, which of course, he had, and he sent me the above photos.
Today, the 23.7 acre property that once held one of L.A.’s finest hotels is nothing more than a construction site – the future location of three new public schools for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The only pieces of the hotel that remain are the circular entrance,
and one wall of the legendary Cocoanut Grove nightclub – both of which are said to be incorporated into the building of the new schools.
The Ambassador opened it doors on New Year’s Day 1921. From opening day up until the late 1960s, the 500 room hotel was a home away from home for movie stars, world leaders, U.S. Presidents, and other V.I.P.’s. Such famous names as Howard Hughes, Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Carey Grant, Katharine Hepburn, President Kennedy, President Hoover, and Bob Hope all frequented the hotel at one time or another. The hotel’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub was the place to see and be seen once upon a time. Such legendary performers as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Bing Crosby and Richard Pryor all performed on the Grove’s hallowed stage and the Academy Awards were held there six times. One of the Ambassador’s main claims to fame (or at least my favorite) is that it is the place where Marilyn Monroe first got her start. In 1944, the then unknown Norma Jean Baker signed with Miss Emmaline Snively’s Blue Book Modeling Agency, which was located inside the hotel. Perhap’s the Ambassador’s more well known, and much more tragic, claim to fame is that it was the location where Robert Kennedy was shot and killed in the early morning hours of June 5, 1968. Kennedy had just won California’s primary nomination for the presidency and was giving his victory speech in the hotel’s Embassy Ballroom. After the speech, he was wisked through the hotel’s kitchen on his way to the press area. Sadly, he never made it. He was instead shot to death near the kitchen’s pantry by Palestinian radical Sirhan Sirhan.
At the time of RFK’s assasination, the area surrounding the Ambassador had become infested with gangs, drugs, and crime, causing the once grand hotel to fall into a steady economic decline. Sadly, once the hotel began its slump, it was never revived. 😦 The Ambassador’s doors were closed to the public in 1989 and the hotel was sold to Donald Trump for $64 million. The Donald, and many others, had plans to completely rennovate the hotel and restore it to its former grandeur, but sadly, that was not to be. The Ambassador sat empty for the next 16 years while its fate was decided. The Los Angeles Unified School District, in need of property to build new schools, obtained rights to the land based on imminent domain. This plan tied up the property for years, while L.A.U.S.D. fought developers, conservationists, and even lawyers for Sirhan Sirhan, who argued that the hotel’s kitchen must be kept intact so further evidence could be gathered to exonerate their client. Sadly, the developers and the conservationists lost the battle and in September of 2005, L.A.U.S.D. began its demolition of the Ambassador. The last remaining piece of the Ambassador was knocked down on January 16, 2006 – almost 85 years to the day of the hotel’s grand opening. It sickens me that this was allowed to happen.
During the years when the Ambassador was closed and a battle was being fought over her future, Hollywood moved in and started filming! The 500 room hotel provided producers with the perfect locale to shoot movies – a vacant, already-built hotel set with plenty of parking for film trucks. The Ambassador has been featured in so many movies that it is virtually impossible to even try to mention them all. A short list of examples: That Thing You Do (where it played itself), Crossroads (where it stood in for all of the hotel room scenes), The Graduate (it was the hotel where Dustin Hoffman carried on his illicit affair with Anne Bancroft), Catch Me If You Can, The Mask (where it stood in for the Coco Bongo Nightclub), Bobby, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Pretty Woman (the main ballroom was used for the scene where Hector Alizondo teaches Julia Roberts about table manners and the scene where Richard Gere plays the piano), Forest Gump (it was featured as the bar where Jenny plays the guitar naked onstage), Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (it was the reunion locale), Apollo 13 (two hotel rooms stood in for Gary Sinese and Kevin Bacon’s apartments), L.A. Story (it stood in for the fictional L’Idiot restaurant), and The Wedding Singer – among literally countless others! So even though the Ambassador is now gone, she will be forever preserved on the silver screen thanks to the magic of the movies.
Here is a great website devoted to the hotel. Here is a great article written by one of the last men to ever photograph the hotel, Whit Wagner. I absolutely love the title. 🙂 And here is a link to some of the photographs he took that day. Here are some more great photos of the interior. And finally, here is a great blog about the hotel’s demolition.
Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂
Stalk It: The site where the Ambassador Hotel once stood is located at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.