now playing: paul pccartney and wings, “silly love songs”
No Ice, No Rooms, No Guests. Now L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel Is Running Out of Time
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2004; Page D01
If the light is right — and is the light ever really wrong here? — this city will sometimes do a halfhearted impression of its former selves, using places that still exist, or using a stand-in.
Driving west on Wilshire Boulevard sometimes feels like the back cover of an Eagles album. Driving east, however, toward downtown L.A., just before you reach MacArthur Park, is a ripped-out page of a Raymond Chandler novel. The problem is you get this kind of thing only in fleeting shots, with just the right palm trees casting shadows across just the right buildings. Something always comes into the frame (a “Starsky & Hutch” billboard; the a.m./p.m. convenience store; the Korean dentist signs) and your brain yells cut.
Then comes the Ambassador Hotel. Forlorn, darkened and, in a sense, gone.
It gives off a hulking, vacant sense of the beautifully doomed, except when someone needs it for a movie or TV shoot.
Britney Spears’s people have called, says Joe Ortiz, who has worked in the hotel for 28 years as a maintenance engineer, staying long after the last guests checked out. Britney Spears may or may not need to use the Ambassador for a music video the following week — the contract pending, the concept pending, Britney pending.
The Ambassador waits, too, its fate undecided. With its 455 empty rooms and its once-famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub, it can be anything you want it to be, and Hollywood still uses it, abuses it, romances it. You can lease it out and film anywhere except the former kitchen pantry, on the notion that it is sacred American space — the narrow corridor with the ice machine where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and five others were shot by Sirhan B. Sirhan on the night of the 1968 California presidential primary.
The hotel sits a half-block back from a busily evolved and presently pan-Asian stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, on 23.7 valuable urban acres three miles west of downtown. It is falling apart a tile at a time behind tall chain-link fences, draped in tangles of ivy and shielded ambivalently by palm and olive trees. Opened on New Year’s Day in 1921, it has been permanently closed to guests and visitors since two days after New Year’s, 1989.
Now, in the months before it will be at last torn down or partially restored as a public school, the hotel has become a kind of fetishized treasure, in a city where it is possible to drive around and feel an elusive sense of loss, even if you just got there.