A night view of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel. Hay Whidden & His Orchestra is on the marquee for the Cocoanut Grove.
Another vintage view of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel’s original dining and ballroom, circa 1921.
Colleen Moore at the Ambassador Hotel, circa 1922.
The hotel’s theater lobby, c. 1920s.
Dancers on the grounds at the Ambassador Hotel. No date given, but could be around 1930.
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)
Patio dining at the Ambassador Hotel, taken sometime between 1923 and 1933.
A rare candid taken inside the legendary Los Angeles night spot, the Cocoanut Grove, in March of 1936. The people seated at the table are Mary Brian, Cary Grant and Wendie Barrie. The two men standing behind them are Ben Lyon and Ben Bernie.
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.
The Ambassador Hotel in 1939. (LAPL 00104321)
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, 1943. (LAPL: 00055460)
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 This offer may be withdrawn without further notice, so please let me hear from you.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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
Partying at the Cocoanut Grove in 1964. (LAPL 00001759)
“Miss Boat Show” Bi Egnell in 1964. (LAPL 00124786)
Ted Kennedy campaigning for brother Bobby inside the Embassy Room at the Ambassador Hotel on May 7, 1968. (LAPL: 00105591)
On June 5, 1968, 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.
Photo taken in 1978 by Anne Laskey. By this time, the Ambassador was definitely rumored to be a 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)
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.
The Coffee Shop interior. Designed by Paul Williams. Photographer: N/A
The Palm Bar near the lobby after the hote closed. Photographer: N/A
“The Ambassador Hotel House Rules.” Photographer: N/A
The lobby in 2003.
The Cocoanut Grove in 2003. The palm trees were for the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, who staged the last performance before the building’s destruction.
A beautiful shot of the Ambassador Hotel’s registration desk, circa 2005. (Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085035)
An east side entrance to the hotel in 2005 with an empty fountain is in the foreground. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman. LAPL 00084984
The hotel’s east facade in 2005. (Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / 00084980)
A hallway of the hotel’s Casino Level in 2005. (Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085078)
The hotel’s shopping promenade on the Casino Level. Date: 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman. (LAPL)
The interior of one of the retail spaces inside the Casino Level in 2005. (Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085086)
Entrance to the Cocoanut Grove, circa 2005. (Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / 00085039)
A hallway that once ran from the main ballroom to the kitchen, circa 2005. (Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085098)
The infamous pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman / LAPL 00085100
Tile that was once located inside the kitchen adjacent to a ballroom.
An empty suite at the Ambassador, circa 2005. Photographer: Tom Zimmerman (LAPL 00085056)
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.”