Built on 23 acres of a former dairy farm, the Ambassador Hotel began construction in June of 1919 and was designed by architect Myron Hunt. Its original name was "The California," however that changed when S.W. Straus stepped in with much-needed funding for the venture. The hotel then became a part of the Ambassador Hotels chain, which included hotels in Atlantic City, New York City, Santa Barbara, and The Alexandria in Los Angeles.
On New Year's Day 1921, the Ambassador Hotel was opened to the public, and had it's "Grand Opening" ceremony on the 18th. The H-shaped Ambassador sported 600 rooms (Plus 60 for servants), and 76 bungalows. It also had a lavishly designed landscape with 3 acres of shrubs and flowers, 8 acres of lawn, and at least 2 50 year-old Washington palm trees.
The Ambassador's first night club was the Zinnia Grill, which opened when the hotel opened. The Zinnia was Los Angeles' first night club, and was located on the hotel's Casino level. It was decorated with black polished satin, on which were painted Zinnias. Due to this, the club was nicknamed "The Black Patent Leather Room" by its clientele. The popularity of the Zinnia Grill, and the long lines of people waiting to be allowed into the club led to the decision by the Ambassador's management to convert the hotel's Grand Ballroom into a premier nightclub.
When the hotel's Grand Ballroom reopened on April 21, 1921 it became the Cocoanut Grove. A music, dance, and supper club. It's trademark was papier mache palm trees rescued from the sandy beaches of Oxnard where they had served as props for Rudolph Valentino's film of the 1921 classic The Sheik. The Cocoanut Grove would eventually become the "Playground of the Stars," hosting Judy Garland's comeback concert, the 2nd birthday party of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Pluto - along with their "father", Walt Disney, and John Barrymore often brought his pet monkey to the Grove.
The Grove whent through 3 renovations, one in 1931 another in 1957 and finally one in 1970 where Sammy Davis Jr. hosted a Wrecking Party where guests were allowed to take anything. Curtains, the paper mache trees, etc. The 1970 renovation was also the result of a fall of grace as a result of the 1960s.
Perhaps the darkest moment of the hotel's history was the assasination of Robert Kennedy in its pantry. At 12:23 AM on June 4th, 1968, Kennedy was shot and killed by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. He died 26 1/2 hours later.
Beginning in the 1960s and no doubt sped up by RFK's assasination. The Ambassador went into decline, and with it so did the rest of the Mid-Wilshire district. It's owners, the Schines refused to pay the several million for fire and earthquake code updates, and so it closed in 1989. The common areas of the hotel and its restaurants remained open until 1988, when the fabled Cocoanut Grove closed its
doors. The hotel's final guests were received on January 3, 1989.
Today, the Ambassador is a far cry from her heyday. Since her closing in 1989, she has been fought over by the Los Angeles Unified School District and Donald Trump, not so much for the property itself, but for the money the district put into to it, care of Donald Trump. However, she is now the property of LAUSD after a judge ordered it this month. But the hotel remains in a decaying state with plaster peeling off in car sized chunks and in constant danger of destruction, especially now with the LAUSD who seems to care little about saving the structure despite many ideas have come into some way save her by finding other uses for alternate uses of the hotel and its 23 surrounding acres. You can still see her exterior, although the property is surrounded in barbed wire. The interiors are often found in movies, The Graduate and Pretty Woman to name a few.
Interesting Events at the Ambassador
- Marion Davies rode a horse through the Ambassador's grand lobby to impress her lover, newspaper czar William Randolph Hearst.
- Rudolph Valentino sipped his morning coffee from the terrace of his bungalow.
- Pola Negri walked her pet leopard on the front grounds.
- F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald left the Ambassador in the middle of the night after setting fire to their bungalow and skipping out on the bill.
- Albert Einstein called the front desk to complain about a nearby ruckus, which turned out to be a honeymoon spat between Jack Dempsey and his wife (Dempsey was trying to throw his wife out of the window).
- The Oscar statuette was first introduced inside the Cocoanut Grove, which hosted the 1930 Academy Awards.
- Nikita Khrushchev the Russian Premier, threw a famous temper tantrum in the Ambassador after hearing that for security reasons, he could not go to Disneyland. To make reparations, Walt Disney sent Mickey Mouse to cheer up the premier.
3400 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90010
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