Traveling alone as a woman in 1926 came with a number of risks, from physical danger and social ridicule to the possibility of being denied lodging unless a man accompanied her as a chaperone.
Maude N. Bouldin wanted to change that.
She was a rule breaker who flew airplanes, rode motorcycles, and was always challenging gender norms that prevented women from achieving their dreams and goals. She wanted to change this narrative, interrupt the male-dominated hospitality industry, and create a hotel that was a safe space for women who were travelling alone without fear of being denied or harmed.
She became the first female hotel manager in America when she opened the historic Hotel Figueroa in Downtown Los Angeles with the YWCA on Aug. 14, 1926, to be that safe haven for solo female travelers and to give women a place to live life untethered. This year, the hotel is celebrating 95 years of empowering women, creating change and calling for progress with new summer and fall programming and events.
Over nearly a century, the hotel has survived a number of historic events, from the Great Depression and World War II to the coronavirus pandemic. It has always served as a symbol for women and Downtown LA of strong female leadership with thriving art and social activism.
To this day, the historic hotel with its signature neon sign and unique coffin-shaped pool still embraces its feminist roots by partnering and featuring female artists, business owners and leaders, while also serving as a symbol of aid for the community.
The staff and founders held rallies fighting social and political issues like racism and sexism while opening coffee shops and restaurants where women’s ideas could thrive. During the pandemic, the hotel housed firefighters fighting nearby wildfires and other first responders who needed a palace to stay. The hotel also served as a polling place for the November 2020 election.
Connie Wang, Hotel Figueroa’s managing director, said with staycations becoming more popular because of the pandemic, she wanted to promote self-care, health and wellness in celebratory programming to create a getaway feeling without having to travel far.
Wang said she and the hotel staff view staycations as a way of helping their guests invest in themselves by having an experience that allows people to rejuvenate.
“People are really looking to just get out of the house,” she said. “So we wanted to create this venue that could be a community hub in a nontraditional way.”
Hotel Figueroa kicked off celebrations on Aug. 15, National Relaxation Day, by transforming one of its deluxe suites into a fitness and relaxation “zen den” to help promote well-rested sleep after a year of ruined sleep schedules and stresses of working from home.
The hotel’s new Rest and Recovery Suite is fitted with all the wellness amenities to help guests rest and recharge during their stay without having to leave their room.
The hotel partnered with Pluto Pillow, a woman-founded business in Downtown LA that was recently shown on “Shark Tank,” to customize pillows that will be ready for guests upon arrival. Guests will also be able to take the pillows home after their stay is over.
Hotel Figueroa also offers the suite’s guests an in-room workout and cooldown equipment, like a FORME exercise mirror and Hyperice muscle massagers.
Along with a pro-relaxation suite, the Figueroa also has a new Spanish and Mediterranean-inspired two-story villa and cocktail lounge called La Casita with an organic, ingredient-forward menu including items like ceviche classico and grilled shrimp tacos that can be paired with handcrafted cocktails. The all-day eatery Cafe Fig is also being relaunched to feature classic recipes that use natural ingredients and Mediterranean, Southwest and Continental influences.
“The celebration is more about coming out of the pandemic and knowing we are stronger at the end of it,” Wang said. “We’re celebrating not only this achievement for us but for the whole Downtown LA community.”
One of Wang’s favorite parts of the anniversary celebrations and hotel revamp is the hotel’s 2021 Featured Artist Series with critically acclaimed artist Shyama Golden’s collection “The Portal.”
“She decided to partner with us to create a unique suite,” Wang said. “Guests can have an immersive experience created by her with this theme of reconnecting with nature.”
The Figueroa Suite has been outfitted with Golden’s art and plants of her choice to help guests relax and reconnect with nature during their experience. The room will have living plants, trellises and other amenities to help bring the artistic elements to life.
“Staycations are what our guests are really looking for, so we wanted to be able to take that to the next level, and we’re happy to be part of that self-care journey,” Wang said.
The hospitality industry was hit hard during the pandemic. Hotels especially had to configure the way they operated when the country was shutting down. Wang said Figueroa not only had to change the way the hotel operated but it was also concerned about helping community businesses around them. Without a specific roadmap on how to navigate operating a hotel during the pandemic, the hotel still wanted to continue helping surrounding businesses and the community.
“We were brainstorming not only how to keep our hotel family and guests together but also how to help community members stay engaged with us throughout the pandemic,” she said. “We basically went back to our roots at the end of the day by partnering with a number of women-owned businesses Downtown to band together and help one another.”
The Bridge Mind Body Movement is one of these local businesses. The Pilates studio had to temporarily close because classes were only offered indoors. In collaboration with the hotel, Bridge Mind Body started teaching classes on the terrace of the Figueroa with enough space to social distance and safely offer classes.
“I feel that sometimes crises have a way of bringing people together, and I’ve really seen the best of people throughout the pandemic,” Wang said. “I think that’s definitely something to celebrate.”
The Hotel Figueroa is only five years shy of reaching a century of being in business, and Wang said the hotel isn’t anywhere close to slowing down. She said that in the future the hotel wants to start honoring women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. The plans for this award are not definitive yet, but Wang said the hotel would most likely name a suite after the award winner, with proceeds from that room being donated to a charity of the winner’s choice.
“I think that’s really our next step for solidifying the legacy of this hotel, is to continue to support people who are pushing to be the best and break through barriers,” she said. “We just want to keep supporting the amazing people that are in our community.”
For more information, visit hotelfigueroa.com.