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L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel To Be Demolished, Replaced by School

Rendering of the proposed school
Image Courtesy Gonzalez Goodale Architects

On July 25 a Los Angeles Superior Court judge gave the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) the go-ahead to demolish most of the famous Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. The now-vacant property, which closed in 1988, will be used for a $318.2 million, 4,200-student education complex.

The Spanish Mediterranean-style Ambassador, designed in 1921 by Myron Hunt, was a Hollywood icon. The Oscars were held there several times, and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated there in 1968. It was used as a location for such films as The Graduate, The Fabulous Baker Boys, True Romance, The Mask and A Star is Born. Hunt also designed the Rose Bowl, Huntington Library and much of Occidental College.

A suit filed on November 23, 2004 by a coalition of preservation activists, including the Los Angeles Conservancy, contested an earlier environmental impact report. The groups hoped that the district would consider a compromise to preserve the building, which would include smaller learning structures around the building, and would allow the hotel to be used for offices, teacher housing, and classrooms.

LAUSD officials, who called re-using the building for school operations too expensive, argued that “the community surrounding the Ambassador site contains the most overcrowded schools in the district. More than 3,800 children who live in the area surrounding the Ambassador Hotel are bused out of their neighborhood each day—sometimes more than a hour each way.” An LAUSD advisory committee met on July 20 to make recommendations about how the Kennedy assassination could be memorialized at the site.

   The campus design has been conceptualized by Pasadena-based Gonzalez Goodale Architects, which was awarded the $11.2 million contract in October. The project will recreate the four-story Ambassador façade, preserving some Art Deco details, but with a contemporary look. It will also preserve the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub, which will be used as an auditorium. The coffee shop, which was designed by Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams in the 1940s, will be reused as a faculty lounge. The intricate beam ceiling from the Embassy Ballroom will be salvaged and "reapplied" in the new library structure, according to LAUSD senior construction engineer Eugene Aguirre. Construction on the elementary school could begin as early as spring 2006. Completion of the 24-acre project, which will include three separate buildings, including an 800-seat primary center, a 1,000-seat middle school, and a 2,440-seat high school, is planned for September of 2009.

J.T. Long