I have a little something different for today’s post and I hope you love it as much as I do! Love Old Hollywood glamour and history? Let’s take a virtual fieldtrip to the iconic Ambassador Hotel and Cocoanut Grove, playground to the stars. Grab a cocktail, slip into something saucy and let’s go for a shimmy shake down memory lane…
BUT FIRST…OUR MEET-CUTE
Today’s post is contributed by Jessica Goldklang of Party Crush Events.
I came across Jessica the way most of us discover new people these days — on Instagram. I believe she tagged me in a Story, which led me to watch all of her Stories from that day. Serendipitously, she had posted to her Stories the history of The Ambassador Hotel in LA. As someone who finds Old Hollywood glamour and history so appealing, I invited Jessica to share here on Kelly Golightly.
Please welcome Jessica and prepare for a delightful walk down landmark lane…
THE HISTORY OF THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL
As a citizen of Los Angeles, often times its easy to walk by landmarks without even realizing the history behind them.
Yes, we are a young city, but our history is rich and sexy.
I’d like to tell you a story about one such spot located on Wilshire Boulevard, right on the way downtown.
I was on my way to do the most mundane errand — renew my parking pass — when I came to pass this building.
Something jogged my memory about it, so while I was waiting for my number to come up at the department of transportation, I started to research the property.
It turned out that the building I passed was the old Ambassador Hotel.
The Ambassador, known as “The Crown Jewel of Wilshire Boulevard,” was a hopping hotel that opened in 1921.
The hotel, with its 500 rooms, wasn’t’ important just as a place to stay.
It also housed the world famous Cocoanut Grove.
“Crimson predominates in the wall hangings, draperies and carpeting of the Cocoanut Grove, with table clothes in soft pink. The striped canopy over the bandstand is red, grey and pink plastic. Interior design by Henry End, A.I.D., I.D.I., in collaborations with Tom Lee, A.I.D., I.D.I.” From “Impact of Design” Clive Carney, 1959.
The Cocoanut Grove was THE place to be back in the day.
The famous artificial palm trees (said to have been crafted of papier mache), which decorated the club’s interior, were left over from Rudolph Valentino’s 1921 movie The Sheik. The interiors were Mediterranean and Moorish, with tile floors, Italian stone fireplaces, marbled ballrooms, high ceilings and a semi-tropical courtyard.
So many stars were discovered there, including Marilyn Monroe, who signed up with the Blue Book Modeling Company, who had their offices at The Ambassador.
Joan Crawford was discovered on the dance floor of the Cocoanut Grove! And Bing Crosby and Merv Griffin began their singing careers at the Cocoanut Grove.
The Academy Awards were hosted there for many years.
This was the year that Gone With the Wind won.
The Golden Globes were hosted there.
Here’s Marilyn at the Globes in 1960.
Here’s Marilyn Monroe giving her Golden Globes acceptance speech for Best Actress in Some Like It Hot at The Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove.
Speaking of Hollywood royalty, here’s the beautiful Grace Kelly next to producer Joe Pasternak at the 13th Golden Globes, held February 23, 1956 at the Cocoanut Grove of The Ambassador.
It was definitely a social hot spot. Look at Lucy and Ricky!
I wonder if it inspired the Tropicana Club where Ricky Ricardo worked on I love Lucy.
Alas, there was dark history too. According to Vanity Fair:
“Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and Barbra Streisand were frequent performers at this Wilshire Boulevard nightclub, which was part of the Ambassador Hotel. It was also the site of numerous Academy Award ceremonies in the 1930s and 40s. But, like many Old Hollywood establishments, the club also had a racist policy that strictly forbade black guests. When Gone with the Wind was up for numerous Oscars in 1940, film producer David O. Selznick had to call in a special favor to assure actress Hattie McDaniel could attend and accept her best-supporting-actress statuette. “I shall always hold [this award] as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” she said in her gracious speech.”
Robert Kennedy was shot and killed in the kitchen of The Ambassador Hotel in 1968.
He died and left a nation in mourning.
The hotel never recovered and went downhill. It officially closed to guests in 1988. There were legal battles for a while over ownership and it languished.
They held a big auction to get rid of everything.
I wondered what happened to everything so I went on eBay and found this — an old menu from the Cocoanut Grove.
Before the hotel was completely destroyed, there were many famous movies filmed there, such as The Graduate…
The Wedding Singer…
..and LA Story.
But after several historical preservationists fought to keep the original structure, The Ambassador was deemed unsafe.
But not to fret, The Ambassador Hotel did get a happy Hollywood ending after all: It was rebuilt in to the Robert F. Kennedy Community School.
At nearly 600 million dollars to build, it’s the most expensive public school campus in the nation. Over 4000 students attend six different schools on campus from grades kindergarten to 12.
Only one wall of the Cocoanut Grove was able to be saved.
And it stands at the back of a state-of-the-art theatre for students.
There are also a lot of other nods to the past of the hotel, as well as to the history of the space.
So now, if you ever pass the old Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, you know the whole story behind the structure.
From a Hollywood playground to a crime scene to a vibrant school, this is the story of The Ambassador Hotel.
WANT MORE E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY: LANDMARK EDITION?
Have a location you’d love to see featured?
Let us know xo!
This is only the beginning of what can be uncovered under the sunny skies and palm tree-lined streets of Los Angeles.
In the meantime, be sure to follow our “Hollywood reporter” Jessica on Instagram at @partycrushevents. And visit her beautiful website Party Crush Events.
You might also like: The Style Icon Project, where I re-create iconic looks from the past for today’s modern woman.
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Great piece of history – LOVED this story! Thank-you!
This is brilliant, thank you
Superb! Thanks for putting this together.
I came upon this entirely by accident and thoroughly enjoyed the Cocoanut Grove tour.
I stayed at the ambassador in 1983 aged 19 for a 3 week stay loved it the pool the gymnasium was fab
In my days of shooting Feature Film, I had the opportunity of conducting 4 within the confines of the Ambassador Hotel…
I became very familiar with the Historic overview of this sight…GOOD and BAD.
I remember a classic conversation with Tony Curtis and the haunting of the infamous hallway leading into the kitchen… A Hollywood Classic… I wish I could recall the Film Location rep and her name and her perspective overall.
Thanks for the flash back photos many memories of birthdays at the CG, a great jewelers shop & most of all the pink linen tablecloths I acquired at the closing sale, even a few pieces of silver plate.
Love this post! My grandparents lived in the Ambassador Hotel as newlyweds in 1927. They died long before I was born, but I can imagine them here enjoying themselves. Thank you for this!
I thank you for remembering.
Who were the other black lady singers In 1963 through 1965?
Who were other black lady singers in the 1960s?
If you want to see more of the interior of the hotel lobby (right before it was demolished), watch the movie Bobby–and the featurette. I recently watched the movie, That Thing You Do, which was filmed at the old entrance after the hotel building was demolished. I did more research and came across a tidbit. Trump’s holding syndicate bought the site, hoping to create multi-story hotel and grounds. Preservationists saved it from that horrible fate but not before he sold everything off that wasn’t nailed down–hence the auction. He wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything worth saving before eminent domain was used in favor of education.. “In 1991, 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.” From Wikipedia. How much of that is true, don’t know, but it sounds like him. He was mad that the LAUSD won out to build a new school complex for K-12. His love of Hollywood made him famous, the fact he got schooled began his hatred for it.