DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The vacant Embassy Hotel and Auditorium at 851 S. Grand Ave. may get yet another shot at returning to its former glory. New plans recently emerged to turn the historic building into a luxury boutique hotel.
Developers Embassy Partners LLC, a subsidiary of the firm that looked at a renovation of the South Park property about two years ago, are in the early design stage for the rehabilitation of the 1914 edifice. The hotel would be aimed at a “high-end clientele,” according to a presentation by the developers before the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission in late June.
“It’s going to incorporate the historic features with a modern decor,” said Tara Jones Hamacher, a historic consultant for the project.
No timeline or budget has been set for the project, Jones Hamacher said, though the developers hope completion could be about two years away.
Though significant work must be done, Jones Hamacher noted that the renovation could build on the momentum of other projects in the community. That includes the $3 billion L.A. Live, with its centerpiece, the $900 million Convention Center hotel.
“It’s positioned very nicely to contribute to all the positive things that are happening with L.A. Live and it’ll contribute to the South Park area and help knit together some of the fabric between L.A. Live, the FIDM area and the Financial District,” Jones Hamacher said.
The plans were shown to the Cultural Heritage Commission as an informational presentation only and required no action from the city. They call for a facelift of the hotel, including the restoration of historic features such as the lobby, auditorium, balconies and the domed pavilion.
New banner signs are proposed for the exterior of the structure. A new arched awning and new elevators are also part of the plan.
The auditorium, which was originally a 1,500-seat venue, would be turned into a banquet hall and would retain its historic elements.
“Basically we’ll be bringing back the historic features of the auditorium like the stained glass windows,” Jones Hamacher said. “The interior dome will be cleaned, restored and repaired. The arched windows on the south side and north side will be restored as well.”
Details for the building’s rooftop area and pavilion are still being ironed out, but plans call for creating a public space to be used as a lounge or gathering spot.
One of the most significant changes could come to a vacant plot immediately south of the hotel. Fenced off and occasionally overgrown with weeds in recent years, it could house a pool, deck and green space.
“It’s more green space for the area,” said Lambert Giessinger, a historic preservation architect for the city’s office of Historic Resources, which must oversee any changes to the hotel, since it was declared a city Historic-Cultural Landmark in 1985. He added that the Commission views it as “a very exciting project and they liked the idea of adaptively restoring the building back to a hotel.”
Built in 1914 and designed by Thornton Fitzhugh, the building has had several uses through the years. Its original owner was the Trinity Episcopal Church and it was known as the Trinity Auditorium. Soon after completion it was renamed the Embassy Hotel and Auditorium, following a change in ownership. From 1914-1920 it was home to the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, which later became the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In later years it served as a hotel and a dorm for USC. The school moved out in the mid-1990s.
The hotel has sat in limbo since the New York-based Chetrit Group bought the property in 1998 from USC with plans of bringing it back as a hotel and entertainment venue.
In 2007, an approximately $20 million conversion of the building by Chetrit Group, which owns Embassy Partners, and New York-based WSA Management, was announced. They aimed to turn it into a trendy hotel known as the Gansevoort West, with a complete renovation of the 140,000-square-foot structure. Plans called for turning the theater into a live event venue and creating a bar and patio on the roof. The developers also envisioned constructing a three-story building with a two-level restaurant and bar and a 5,200-square-foot fitness center and a rooftop pool next door at Ninth Street and Grand Avenue.
However, the project was called off after the groups split.
Although the plans now seem less ambitious, some observers are glad to hear that the hotel may be reactivated.
“Any time you have a vacant historic building it’s not only detrimental to the neighborhood but it’s detrimental to the building,” said Mike Buhler, director of advocacy for preservationist organization the Los Angeles Conservancy. “Certainly the best way to conserve historic buildings is to ensure their active use.”
Members of the Cultural Heritage Commission have also expressed initial optimism.
“We didn’t have any real criticism of the proposed rehabilitation of the hotel,” said Richard Barron, president of the Cultural Heritage Commission. “It’s a great idea. Whether there’s the financial wherewithal to pull it off in this climate is always a good question, but eventually things will come around and they’ll be ready to go with the rehabilitation of this very historic building.”
Jones Hamacher said the next step is for the developer to proceed with construction drawings and, in a few months, begin applying for city permits for the restoration.
Contact Richard Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org.
page 3, 07/06/2009
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