An early view.
An early view of a piano in the lobby.
Another vintage view of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel’s original dining and ballroom, circa 1921.
The Ambassador Hotel’s Parrot Porch was one of several less formal dancing and dining rooms located on the ground floor of the Ambassador Hotel when it opened in 1921. The color scheme was blue and orange and had goldfish bowls with fish as well as exotic birds. Other dining rooms at that time included the Zinnia (sometimes spelled Xinnia) Grill and the palm room, and, of course, the 1000 seat formal dining/ballroom, which was later converted into the Cocoanut Grove. The opening house band for all three of the informal dining areas was the Max Fischer dance orchestra.
An early look at the Cocoanut Grove.
Colleen Moore at the Ambassador Hotel, circa 1922.
Beautiful photograph by E. O. Hoppé, circa 1920s.
An outdoor fashion show.
A star, possible Marjorie Daw, on the hotel grounds.
A poolside server in 1923.
In the 1920s, the hotel had a putting green for golfers.
The hotel’s theater lobby, c. 1920s.
The intersection of Wilshire and Western Avenues on April 20, 1926. The hotel is in the distance.
Water polo at the Ambassador Hotel in 1926. (LAPL)
An orchestra, possibly members of the Cocoanut Grove’s house band, entertain inside the Ambassador’s Lido swimming pool during an outdoor dance. The photo is undated.
The Fiesta Room in 1926.
Mrs. Mildred Perlee, a dancer whose stage name is “Aarai,” poses on Dexter, a light cavalry horse owned by Major Sands of the 82nd Field Artillery, Ft. Bliss, Texas. The artist is L.P. Prescott, who is working on a sculpture of “Joan of Arc.” The photo was taken in 1928 on the Ambassador Hotel grounds.
A caballero poses with his horse on the grounds of the Ambassador Hotel during the 1928 Los Angeles National Horse Show.
If you don’t recognize the Ambassador Hotel offhand, it is the French room redecorated to resemble a Parisian Cafe.
The occasion was a welcome home party thrown for Marion Davies after she returned from a three-month trip to Europe. The year is 1928.
Standing left to right, Lorraine Eddy, Matt Moore, Aileen Pringle, Louis B. Mayer, Gloria Swanson, Harry D’Arrast, Marion Davies, Louella Parsons, Ricardo Cortez, Charles Chaplin, Norma Shearer, Irving Thalberg, Harold Lloyd, and Robert Z. Leonard. Seated in the foreground are Harry Crocker, left, and William Haines.
National Indoor 10-foot Springboard champion Georgia Coleman was one of many athletes taking part in a special water carnival at the Ambassador Hotel’s outdoor swimming pool on July 20, 1929.
In 1928, after only diving for six months, she won the silver medal in the 10-meter platform event and the bronze for the 3-meter springboard competition.
In the 1932 Summer Olympics (held in Los Angeles), Coleman took home the gold for the 3-meter springboard event and a silver medal for the 10-meter platform competition.
Much loved by all her Southern California peers, she died young at the age of 29 in a Los Angeles hospital from a liver ailment complicated by peritonitis.
As seen here, the Ambassador’s Lido pool was often used for pre-Olympic competitions, training, and contests throughout the 1920s. Coleman spent quite a bit of time here as well as the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
The Ambassador’s lobby, circa 1930.
Dancers on the grounds at the Ambassador Hotel. No date given, but could be around 1930.
The hotel’s Plunge.
Fashion show on the hotel grounds, circa 1930.
The Dancing Sunbeams (from the Bud Murray Dancing School) share the Lido swimming pool with a trained seal named Charley. I think the idea was that the dancers were supposed to race the animal. Photo taken in June of 1930. (LAPL: 00055444)
Richard Dix and his first wife Winifred Coe inside the Cocoanut Grove, circa 1931.
Patio dining at the Ambassador Hotel, taken sometime between 1923 and 1933.
Loretta Young inside the patio in 1931.
“Adorant,” a bronze statue, was located at one end of the Ambassador lobby. Photo from 1930.
The Ambassador Hotel’s Siesta Bungalow (Cottage) in the 1930s. According to legend, Rudolph Valentino; Tallulah Bankhead; Gloria Swanson; F.Scott Fitzgerald, and his wife, Zelda, lived there briefly. The building was also the home of John Barrymore for a number of years in the mid-1920s.
George Raft and Edith O’Roarke at the Cocoanut Grove, circa 1932.
Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell at the Cocoanut Grove on May 13, 1935.
The Ambassador’s Coconut Strawberry Cream Tarts
1 cup cream, whipped
1 egg white, stiffly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 cups coconut
1 cup sweetened sliced strawberries
6 baked 3.5 inch tart shells
Combine cream, egg, sugar, vanilla, and i cup of coconut. Place strawberries in the bottom of tart shells, pile cream mixture on fruit, and sprinkle with remaining coconut. If desired, place one whole strawberry on each tart before sprinkling with coconut. Serve at once. Serves 6.
Inside the Ambassador Hotel’s Field & Turf Club, a private room adjacent to the Cocoanut Grove. The photo is circa the early to mid-1930s. Supposedly, William Powell was a regular.
Surviving caricatures from the hotel’s Field and Turf Club:
Personalites include: Ann Dvorak (I actually own this one), Fred Astaire, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Laughton, Gene Raymond (I own this one, too), Gary Cooper, the Barrymores: Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore (John lived for quite awhile inside the hotel’s Siesta Bungalow in the mid to late 1920s), Fanny Brice, MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer and Leo the Lion, Warner Bros. hit songwriting duo Al Dubin and Harry Warren (at the piano), Ronald Colman, Alan Mowbray, W.C. Fields, Una Merkel, Guy Kibbee… and an unidentified actor (George Brent?), Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell , and Zazu Pitts.
Rita Hayworth, poolside at the Ambassador Hotel, in 1936. At the time this photo was taken, she had signed with Fox as Rita Cansino (her birth name being Margarita Carmen Cansino).
Poolside in 1937. Photographer: Herman J. Schultheis / LAPL 00072128
Two icons of Los Angeles: the Brown Derby Restaurant on Wilshire and the Ambassador Hotel across the street. From 1937. Both a memory.
“Fashion Fortnight” at the Cocoanut Grove held on January 27, 1938. Ruth Stevens is the model, sporting a spring negligee of white jersey embroidered with rhinestones.
The Ambassador Hotel in 1939. (LAPL 00104321)
The pantry in 1940. (UCLA Digital Archive)
A Conga line forms after the main show ends at the Cocoanut Grove on June 22, 1940. (LAPL: 00055459)
The Navy Relief Ball held at the Cocoanut Grove on June 12, 1942. (LAPL: 00055460)
Robert Montgomery, his wife Elizabeth Bryan Allen and character actor Roger Pryor attending a clambake at the Cocoanut Grove in the 1940s.
This candid was believed to have been taken by George Hurrell.
On April 1, 1943, Madame Chiang Kai-shek made a grand entrance in the lobby, during her visit to Los Angeles. Her visit was to speak about China’s six year war with Japan and the atrocities that occurred during that conflict. (LAPL 00095771)
In bottom photo, it looks like Louella Parsons is trying to get Joan Bennett‘s attention at the event. (LAPL)
Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali works from the bathtub of an Ambassador Hotel suite because he enjoys working in small places.
Photo taken June 18, 1944
(UCLA photo archive)
Poolside at the Ambassador Hotel in the 1940s.
Postcard reads: Save 50% on Ambassador Lido’s Special Course. 16 complete treatments for $25. Includes posture corrective exercise, Reducing Ring Roller, Baths and full body massage – also use of plunge and Suntan Beach on day of treatment. This offer may be withdrawn without further notice, so please let me hear from you. This card entitles you to a complimentary treatment – not transferable. Free Parking…Louise Brown, Directress.
Another view of the Lido Pool Club.
“Model Mothers” with the Blue Book Model Agency lounge with two children at the Lido swimming pool in 1945. (Photo: Ralph Morris/LAPL)
In this undated photo, a swimmer takes a break at the poolside bar of the Lido Club at the Ambassador.
The Cocoanut Grove in 1949.
The hotel’s bell captain and bellmen.
The Ambassador Hotel lobby, circa December 1951. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker, 1901-1976.
The hotel’s lounge area, circa December 1951. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker (1901-1976).
The Ambassador Colonial Room, circa 1951. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker
The Embassy Room. Undated. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker.
Ambassador Hotel barber shop. Undated. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker.
Outside of the hotel, circa 1951. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker (USC Archive)
A Mid-Century Modern makeover inside one of the bungalows, circa 1951. 1951. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker
Although the Cocoanut Grove started its “Night in Hawaii” as early as 1928, it became a regular Tuesday evening event from 1951 to at least 1954.
A Winter Wonderland inside the Cocoanut Grove on December 12, 1952, for the Juniors of the Social Service Auxiliary 17th Annual Candlelight Ball. The grand finale was the release of 6000 white balloons from the ceiling.
Poolside at the Ambassador Hotel pool in 1952.
The May Co.’s fashion show inside the Cocoanut Grove on September 16, 1953. The model is wearing a nightgown. (LAPL 00027844)
The model is Jean Moorhead. The event is a fashion show at the Cocoanut Grove inside the Ambassador Hotel. The photographer was named “Rustan.” And the photo is dated 01-10-54. (USC digital archive)
Mrs. Herbert A. Hitchins modeling the “Butterfly Aerialist” headdress during the 17th Annual Las Foristas Floral Headdress Ball at the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, April 23, 1955. (LAPL)
A fashion show in September 1955. (LAPL 00073155)
Edward G. Robinson at the Cocoanut Grove around 1956 (or thereabouts).
A painted partition wall in one of the ballrooms, dated March 1956. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker (1901-1976).
A lounge area of the Ambassador Hotel, circa March 1956. Photographer: Maynard L. Parker
“Fashionations,” a benefit fashion show-luncheon was held inside the Embassy Room on March 12, 1956, by the Theta Sigma Phi. Over 1000 people attended.
House bandleader Freddy Martin recorded a live album at the Cocoanut Grove in 1957. He also provided the launching pad for one of his crooners, Merv Griffin. Martin returned to the Ambassador in the 1970s.
The Cocoanut Grove in 1956.
Interior of one of the Ambassador Hotel’s large banquet rooms where it appears that some kind of convention is taking place. No determination on the date.
The Royal Suite of the Ambassador Hotel, circa October 1960.
Too bad the Ambassador Hotel was edited out of this news photo, but here are two women asking JFK for an autograph during his breakfast. Photo was taken in September of 1960, shortly before election time. (LAPL 00105435)
A Kodachrome taken outside of one of the Ambassador Hotel bungalows. Photo is undated.
The east side entrance to the hotel, circa 1963.
Miss Streisand Wows Hollywood Movie Turnout
She’s also kookier than Shirley MacLaine.
And Barbara Streisand is only 21. One of the biggest movie turnouts in months greeted her Hollywood debut at the Cocoanut Grove. She’s the new pet of the movie crowd.
As she looked over the audience, which included everyone from Sue (Lolita) Lyon to Henry Fonda, she said” “I’m the kind of nut who reads movie magazines – and here you all are alive. If I had known you were coming, I would have had my nose fixed.”
This sailor’s top was designed by Barbra Streisand for her first appearance at the Cocoanut Grove in 1963. Valued between $2,000 and 3,000, it was auctioned by Streisand on June 5, 2004.
Partying at the Cocoanut Grove in 1964. (LAPL 00001759)
Ambassador Hotel lounge area, circa September 1964.
Photographer: Maynard L. Parker (1901-1976).
The Lido pool in the 1960s.
“Miss Boat Show” Bi Egnell in 1964. (LAPL)
Ted Kennedy, at the Ambassador Hotel in 1966, greets political supporters of incumbent Governor Pat Brown who lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in 1967. (Photographer: Lou Mack / LAPL 00105583)
Ted Kennedy campaigning for brother Bobby inside the Embassy Room at the Ambassador Hotel on May 7, 1968. (LAPL: 00105591)
June 5, 1968. Pierre Salinger, one of Robert Kennedy’s campaign managers, is seen, here, following the California primary election results from inside the Ambassador Hotel. Salinger had earlier served as a press secretary to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as well as a very brief stint as a U.S. Senator representing California. Later that evening Robert “Bobby” Kennedy was fatally shot inside the hotel’s pantry. Juan Ramero, a hotel employee, knelt beside him seconds after the shooting. Although Kennedy did not die in the hotel, his shooting erased much of the hotel’s storied past in the minds of many Angelenos.
Pandemonium inside the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room shortly after Bobby Kennedy was fatally shot on June 5, 1968. The man at the microphone appears to be Pierre Salinger, one of Bobby’s campaign managers. Kennedy died on June 6th. (LAPL 00105624)
A view of the Ambassador Hotel in 1976. Photographer: Anne Laskey // LAPL 00090138
Photo taken in 1978 by Anne Laskey. By this time, the Ambassador was definitely rumored to be haunted by more than one ghost. LAPL 00090134.
A great shot of the art deco bas relief sculpture near the outer entrance pylon of the (demolished) Ambassador Hotel. The photo was taken in 1978 by Anne Laskey. (LAPL 00090142)
Rosa Parks and “Hill Street Blues” actor Michael Warren at a special ACLU event at the Ambassador Hotel in 1984. (LAPL 00115463)
The Ambassador in 1987. Renovations for the failing hotel were estimated to cost $30 million at that time. Photographer: Javier Mendoza/ LAPL 00055456.
The Embassy Room in 1987.
Photo taken circa June 1988. Workers are putting up a sign on the billboard honoring Robert Kennedy. (Photographer: Dean Musgrove / LAPL 00055446)
Bill and Betty Szeden were among the final guests to check out of the Ambassador Hotel in 1989. The hotel closed on January 3. Photographer: Michael Haering / LAPL 00055441
Last call! Ambassador Hotel bartender Ramiro Siguentes shares the recipe to his creation: the Ambassador Cooler. Photo: LAPL
4 cl Angostura® Reserva
2 cl De Kuyper Sloe Gin
1 cl Monin Grenadine
5 cl Orange juice
5 cl Pineapple juice
- Cocktail Shaker
- Double Old-Fashioned
- Cocktail cherry, orange & mint
- Shake all five ingredients with ice and strain in double Old-Fashioned glass, filled with ice cubes. Add a cocktail cherry, quartered slices of orange and mint leaves for garnish.
The Ambassador Hotel in August of 1989, less than eight months after it closed. The Los Angeles Conservancy promised not to pursue landmark status for the 1921 hotel in exchange for having one year to find a buyer. It remains unclear whether the Conservancy made an effort to find one during that grace period. What is clear is that the organization made a very poor deal. Photographer: Louise Stern / LAPL 00055449
Okay, so obviously this isn’t the Ambassador Hotel. Instead, it is the model of the unrealized Trump Tower, with its proposed 125 floors. This is the shrine Trump wanted to build for himself on the Ambassador Hotel site in the 1990s. Needless to say, the “Art of the Deal” maker couldn’t make the deal.
Me standing outside of the entrance to the Cocoanut Grove in the late 1990s. The orbs are dust.
Collage Theatre members performing inside the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel’s Lido Pool. This musical act preceded Heidi Duckler’s dance company’s performance inside the hotel. Photo, circa 2003. Photo credit: Bizarre Los Angeles
The lobby in 2003.
Entrance to the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove. Photo by Craig Owens.
The Cocoanut Grove in 2003. The palm trees were for the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, which staged the last performance before the building’s destruction.
Looking up at the Ambassador Hotel near the Casino entrance.
Last look at the hotel grounds:
“It’s a place where Sammy Davis played, some movie stars went and Bobby Kennedy was shot. That’s about it.” — former city councilperson Nate Holden stated when explaining why the Ambassador should be torn down.
Last look at the lobby:
Last look at the Casino Level in 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman:
Views of the hotel’s shopping promenade on the Casino Level, including store interiors, the Oval Suite, and stairs.
Last look at the Cocoanut Grove in 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman:
A hallway that once ran from the main ballroom to the kitchen, circa 2005. (Top photographer by Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085098
The pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085100
The penthouse area of the Ambassador Hotel’s main building, circa 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman. (LAPL)
A dormer room, located on the south side. 2005. Photo by Tom Zimmerman.
Exposed clay tile in a fifth floor hotel room, circa 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman
An empty suite at the Ambassador, circa 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman (LAPL 00085056)
A guest room inside the Ambassador Hotel. 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman.
The bathroom of one of the guest rooms inside the Ambassador Hotel. 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman.
A laundry chute inside the Ambassador Hotel. 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman.
Last look at the Embassy Room in 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman:
A bar once located very close to The Cocoanut Grove wing coffee shop. 2005. Photo by Tom Zimmerman.
A final look at the hotel’s bungalows from 2003-2005. Photographer: LAPL and mine.
Last look at the Huerta Bungalow. Photos by Tom Zimmerman in 2005. (LAPL):
Last look at the Reposa Bungalow. Photos by Tom Zimmerman in 2005. (LAPL):
Last look at the Rincon Bungalow. Photos by Tom Zimmerman in 2005. (LAPL):
Last look at the Siesta Bungalow. Photos by Tom Zimmerman in 2005. (LAPL):
Interior of the hotel’s health spa, circa 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman.
For Sale: Stardust Memories
It might just be the biggest architectural salvage project in Los Angeles.
For more than 15 years, workers have been slowly taking apart the Ambassador Hotel. They’ve removed many of the fixtures, furniture and equipment from the Wilshire Boulevard landmark that once hosted Hollywood stars and world leaders and have sold them off, piece by piece.
It started in 1991, about two years after the hotel closed. Donald Trump, who had bought the hotel in hopes of tearing it down to build a 125-story building, sold off silver serving platters with the hotel’s eagle-topped crest, tiki-style soup bowls from the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and beds and nightstands from the rooms. Someone paid $2,250 for a baby grand piano used in the hotel by Sammy Davis Jr.
Trump’s grand plans never materialized. But the slow process of stripping the hotel continued. Now, the Ambassador’s current owner, the Los Angeles Unified School District, is poised to demolish most of the sprawling hotel this fall and replace it with schools. So workers are frantically pulling out what is left — to be put up for auction Sept. 10.
Many of the soon-to-be-auctioned goods are already grouped in careful rows in a parking lot at the west edge of the Ambassador property that will serve as the auction site when the bidding starts at 10 a.m.
Some are one-of-a-kind treasures, like the old black safe, made decades ago by Halls Safe Co. of Cincinnati for the Ambassador. It will be auctioned off along with its combination.
Then there are the two statue light fixtures that may have once peered out over the Cocoanut Grove and are, admittedly, of questionable taste nowadays: Black boys in richly colored tunics holding palm-frond chandeliers aloft. District officials said they have been rewired more than once.
Other items are the more mundane pieces necessary to run a hotel famed for serving hundreds of guests at once: banquet chairs and tables, for example.
Also for the taking are dozens and dozens of sconces, products of the disco era, with burly wood bases and cork-and-fringe lampshades; eight black leather couches with red trim, their wooden feet a little chipped, their lining a little frayed; a gaggle of stage lights pulled down from the Cocoanut Grove ceiling; and two spotlights from the nightclub.
A district official said he had heard that the lights still worked. But there was no guarantee.
Is there a market for any of this?
Officials say they’re not sure — it depends in part, they said, on the “buzz” the auction generates. But they have agreed to remove as many pieces from the hotel as they can before it is razed.
The hotel, closed since 1989, still holds a warm place in the hearts of many Angelenos — so much so that the Los Angeles Conservancy and other groups fought for years in an ultimately unsuccessful battle to keep the hotel buildings intact. [My note: Hah! Don’t get me started about the Conservancy!]
The booty also has ties to Old Hollywood, always a plus in the collectibles world: Opened in 1921, the hotel was host to six Academy Awards ceremonies as well as countless movie stars and dignitaries, including Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. It is perhaps best known, however, as the site where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.
And to make sure everyone knows the pedigree of that lamp, items sold at the auction will include certificates of authenticity, said Diane Bendis, president of Bendis Companies Inc., which is managing the auction for the Los Angeles school district….
One reason the Ambassador has sustained so many years of salvage is its sheer size. It has 1,000 rooms, and the hotel’s grounds, pool and bungalows took up a 27-acre site.
As its layers have been stripped away since it closed, the hotel itself has taken on the look of a house left vacant by owners who departed quickly.
The furniture left in the lobby — much of which is being auctioned off in the sale — was placed haphazardly, moved around the cavernous space by movie crews that used the hotel regularly to recapture bygone eras on film. Ballrooms were littered with trashcans to catch the leaks, and the only fixtures that truly seemed to belong to the hotel anymore were a group of cats who called the old building home.
Even after the Sept. 10 auction, more last-minute salvaging could occur — on big items like the massive alabaster fountain in the lobby, stair railings and heavy-duty kitchen equipment.
Glenn Gritzner, special assistant to district Supt. Roy Romer, said the district hoped to find architectural salvage firms willing and able to remove those items from the building. But he said the construction of the new schools was on a tight schedule and that timing was an issue, because the district was committed to opening the campus’ elementary school in 2008, and the middle and high schools the following year.
School officials said they hoped that there were enough small items in the auction so that anyone wanting to take home a piece of the Ambassador would find something they could afford.
Among those they can pick from are dozens of floral prints and mirrors, one of which has a sticker from the liquidators last time around — and a price tag of $35.
All of the money raised from the auction will go into the school district’s general operating fund. But Bendis said she had no way to predict how much that would be. “Because of the historical thing,” she said, “you really have to have a crystal ball to know.”
Gilliam Greyson, owner of Scavenger’s Paradise in North Hollywood, said her store was selling a couple of crystal chandeliers — removed from the hotel on the last go-round of salvaging — for between $200 and $500 apiece.
“When people come in, I think of finding a good home for these pieces, because they have such a good history,” Greyson said. “If we can save a piece of that history, it’s well worth it.”
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