By Kamala Kirk
pen since 1926, Hotel Figueroa is an iconic landmark and one of the longest-standing hotels in Downtown Los Angeles that served as a mecca and safe haven for many women.
During the early 1900s, solo female travelers were often frowned upon and looked at suspiciously and needed a place to stay where they could feel safe, comfortable and respected.
“Hotel Figueroa opened as a women’s hostelry during an era in which women were typically not allowed to travel alone and without a chaperone,” said Matt Vargas, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Figueroa.
“From the outset, the hotel was founded and operated by women, and was designed to appeal to women specifically. Over time, it became a place where enduring friendships were built that gave women confidence to be comfortable traveling solo.”
In 1921, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) purchased a lot on the edge of DTLA to build a hotel that catered to professional women. The YWCA promoted it as “the largest project of its kind to be financed, built, owned and operated by women.”
“While the YWCA built other hotels in Los Angeles, Hotel Figueroa was the only project where women ran and designed the entire space,” Vargas said.
When the hotel opened in 1926, adjoining it was the YWCA’s five-story administration building. According to historian and author Craig Owens, the YWCA sent approximately 1,000 invitations to the hotel’s opening, which consisted of a dinner-dance.
“The Prior Moore Orchestra, dressed in Spanish costumes, provided the entertainment,” Owens said. “Spanish dancers and crooners also added to the festive occasion. The hotel’s first manager was a woman named Maude Bouldin, and as a social center it catered to and attracted a few women’s organizations and political office holders. As a building, it was progressive and ahead of its time. It’s amazing that it got built and that it is still here.”
Bouldin was a strong feminist figure who was ahead of her time, and years later she was immortalized in a portrait by LA artist Alison Van Pelt.
“In addition to being a breaker of glass ceilings, Bouldin was quite an adventurer,” Vargas said. “She was an aviatrix, enjoyed riding motorcycles and loved racing cars.”
Two years after opening, Hotel Figueroa allowed male guests for the first time, but with certain provisions.
“Men were permitted to stay at the hotel beginning in 1928 but stayed on separate floors from the hotel’s female guests,” Vargas explained.
From 1931 to 1958, Hotel Figueroa was a hub of creative community, press conferences, political rallies and social clubs in DTLA. The YWCA kept its administrative building next door until 1951, occasionally holding events there. By the 1970s, Hotel Figueroa operated as a semipermanent residential hotel and was purchased in 1976 by Uno Thimansson, who transformed the property into a Moroccan retreat.
The Staples Center opened nearby in 1999, and the hotel became known for its Grammy afterparties. Tennis star Andre Agassi’s likeness was painted on the hotel’s south-facing outer wall. Hotel Figueroa has also been featured on the big screen, serving as a backdrop in “True Blood,” in addition to Prince’s music video “A Million Days.”
In 2014, the hotel was purchased by Green Oak Real Estate and Urban Lifestyle Hotels, who spent the next three years restoring the building before its grand reopening in February 2018. Hotel Figueroa’s updates included a modern take on Spanish Colonial design, 268 upscale guest rooms (including the Casablanca Suite with a secret passageway that opens by pulling on a book on a bookshelf), several new restaurants and bars, a bright and open lobby where paintings—many by local Angelenos—are on display, and a rehab of the iconic coffin-shaped pool.
“The primary goal for the renovation was to restore the hotel to its original Spanish Colonial style, while renovating the beautifully appointed rooms and shared spaces to create a comfortable, tranquil environment for guests,” Vargas said. “We were even able to preserve some of the original YWCA insignias on the lobby’s walls.”
The hotel has several initiatives going on, including a year-long Featured Artist Series partnership with global online marketplace Society6 to showcase the works of local independent female artists. Hotel Figueroa also launched a Work Perks Subscription Program, which allows teams to work remotely four days per week with one day per week designated for in-person meetings and collaborations at the hotel while adhering to CDC and WHO recommendations.
When many hotels closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hotel Figueroa remained open as a safe haven for all essential workers that needed a place to stay. As businesses began to reopen for travelers, the hotel implemented new safety and health protocols, and was among one of the first to secure a “Clean + Safe” designation from the California Hotel & Lodging Association. It is also offering a new California resident discount for local travelers that includes 26% off their stay (a nod to the hotel’s original opening year of 1926), free parking and free cancellation with proof of a California ID.
“At Hotel Figueroa, we are proud to offer a relaxing, resort-like getaway in the heart of Downtown,” Vargas said. “It’s truly an urban oasis with a tranquil outdoor pool amidst 70-year-old cactus groves. Paired with our rich history and commitment to supporting women and our diverse DTLA community, it is our goal to make our guests feel at home at The Fig.”
939 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles