We are surrounded everywhere by buildings that incorporate loads of stories. At first, they were nothing but well or poorly-designed chunks of concrete. Yet, as they continued to host people, go through circumstances, and influence change, they gradually turned into entities of some or much significance.
Like everything else in life, buildings have times of glory and obscurity. Some are destined for eternal magnificence and a long, long stay, such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China. Some were sadly demolished, like the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Hanging Gardens of Babylons. Others head directly to oblivion, despite still being physically there.
Yet, all buildings more or less saw transforming events happen, things that changed the face of the earth forever. This made them gradually become eyewitnesses of history. One such place that saw the rise of a little rural American district to the peak of fame and worldwide recognition is the Hollywood Hotel.
For about half a century, the Hollywood Hotel was the residence of the elite. It was the birthplace of entertainment and the gathering spot of creatives, from actors, directors, and writers to singers, musicians, and producers. Thanks to being an architectural masterpiece in itself, the Hollywood Hotel also influenced modernity in the city.
Despite that, the hotel is now barely remembered. Not many pictures of it are available. So, what is the story of this place? How did it climb to the peak of success? What influence did it have on the development of Hollywood? And why did it slide non-stop to the depth of forgetfulness?
Well, that is what this article is all about. So, let’s hop into it.
A Little History of The Site
The Dolby Theatre is by far the most famous auditorium in the world. That is not because it is the largest nor because of its history—it has only been there for a little over 20 years. But because this very theatre hosts the most regarded and glamorous event in the entertainment industry, the Oscars.
The Dolby Theatre is not an independent building, but part of a large entertainment complex called the Hollywood Ovation. With an area of 36,000 square metres, the theatre stands at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. These two are famous major roads in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles, California.
The construction of the entire Hollywood Ovation took around four years. Then it was opened in November 2001. Besides the Dolby Theatre, the complex also comprises the famous TCL Chinese Theatre and a shopping centre. Although not very tall, the five-storey complex oversees the iconic Hollywood Sign, providing a chance for great photos without having to hike or drive there.
The Hollywood Ovation also stands along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is the sidewalk of 15 blocks ending with the Dolby Theatre. It is made of granite and has 2,700 stars bearing the names of influential people that made remarkable contributions to the entertainment industry and the development of American cinema.
Before the Hollywood Ovation came into existence, the First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Hollywood stood in this location for almost 50 years. This banking institution was a tall, boxy and super ugly 12-storey office building. It also comprised a shopping centre and numerous parking spaces.
This chunky orthogonal building only saw the light sometime in the 1950s. Before that, the land was occupied by, yes, the iconic Hollywood Hotel.
The Hollywood Hotel
Once it was opened in late 1903, the Hollywood Hotel quickly became the elite’s unique residence and a forum for the town’s well-educated people. For decades and decades, it went from glory to glory. It even survived the economic impact of World War I and continued to thrive until it hit a brick wall and started its inevitable fall down.
The Canadian American real estate developer H.J. Whitley built the Hollywood Hotel on a large piece of land at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard—it was called Prospect Avenue at the time and only renamed Hollywood Boulevard in 1910.
Whitley and two others, George Hoover and Harrison Gray Otis, owned the land on which the hotel stood. The latter was the manager of the publishing company of the daily newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, which took the responsibility of advertising the hotel.
At the time, the Hollywood district was nothing like what it would become later on. It was just a quiet rural neighbourhood where the elite loved to enjoy some lazy weekends where nothing happened as opposed to their busy workdays.
Whitley was a man of vision and a bright, successful businessman. He believed this little neighbourhood had the potential to transfer into something entirely different and more glamorous. So, he decided to spark its development by building the Hollywood Hotel.
Besides that, the Hollywood Hotel was also to provide accommodation to those who aspired to buy permanent residences in town. Soon enough, it turned into a booming business by hosting great personalities whose staying at the hotel helped revive life there.
It is not known for sure how long it took Whitley to develop the Hollywood Hotel. But an announcement in the Los Angeles Times came out on the morning of 2 December 1902; it read that the neighbourhood “[now] possesses such a commodious and up-to-date hotel resort” and described it as a true definition of a charming hostelry.
The then-called Hotel Hollywood had a different and more modern architectural style than the rest of the buildings in town, featuring delicate wood structures. Built with a cost of $30,000 then, over a million dollars now, the hotel comprised two floors connected by a grand staircase.
The first floor had a spacious reception room and numerous halls. These included dining rooms for adults and children, a barber shop, a gallery, a dance room and others. The second floor had 50 rooms, all with modern fixed furniture decorated with white pine wood.
On the outside, the building adopted the famous Mission Revival style featuring stucco frontages and a wide terrace. Additionally, there was a rotunda on top of which was the American flag flying at the lightest breeze like it would with no breeze at all on the Moon 67 years later.
The hotel’s expansive terrace soon became a social hub and a great asset in attracting more and more residents.
The Hollywood Hotel hosted a grand opening reception in early December 1902. Yet, it was not until 19 December that it officially started accepting guests. Dazzling in lights, decorations, plants, and flowers, the hotel welcomed over 400 people, among whom were developers, businessmen, the mayor, city officials and many other elite personalities.
The stunning reception and the novelty of such an elegant hotel lured many of the elite to spend Christmas there. For the first time in just one place, they indulged in luscious, mouth-watering food, danced to the beat, gazed at beautiful paintings, and got into long conversations with the other prominent personalities.
Not long after the grand opening, the Hollywood Hotel’s rooms started filling up, and the need for an expansion was unquestionable.
At the time, Prospect Avenue itself was growing into a business centre. Thanks to a French artist who turned his house into an always-open exhibition, many art advocates from inside and outside the town started flocking to his gallery to view his super-good artwork. And where could they stay in town? Yes, the Hollywood Hotel.
Whitley was aware of the fast pace at which the hotel and the surrounding area were transforming. The demand for residence at the “gem of the valley” increased noticeably. So he started carrying on an expansion plan, adding another wing to the hotel. By 1905, the hotel had a capacity of 90 luxurious rooms.
In 1906, the loaded businesswoman and real estate developer Almira Hershey, Mira for short, read about the hotel in the LA Times and decided to pay it a visit. She was totally captivated by the elegance of the hotel, its outstanding architecture, and its modernity. Mira was never going to let it slip by, nor was she going to deny herself the hotel’s terrific dessert menu any more days of her life.
Mira already had the Darby and the Fremont Hotels in her possession. Soon after she visited the Hollywood Hotel, she reached a good deal with Whitley and bought it. At the same time, the latter went on with his other projects to continue reviving the town.
The hotel’s management was assigned to Margaret J. Anderson, who was already managing Mira’s other hotels at the time. As clever as Mira herself, Margaret could significantly expand the Darby and the Fremont hotels and turn them into money-making machines in the shape of luxurious residences. That is why she was made in charge of the newly bought Hollywood Hotel.
Mira knew that every penny she was to invest in developing the hotel would come back doubled soon. So she expanded it even more, taking over the entire block. Mira added more rooms, broadened the gardens and turned them into an earthly heaven. Successfully, she could turn the hotel into the lavish centre of town.
The success of the Hollywood Hotel can also be attributed to Mira’s excellent network of friends who highly appreciated and respected her. Once they knew about her new hotel, they started joining her there, where she used to throw balls.
It is not clear if it was Mira’s vision or mere fortune that destined the Hollywood Hotel to even more ridiculous success. Although that French artist died in 1911, taking away all the tourists who came into town just to visit his home gallery, the Hollywood film industry was just starting to become a thing and highly influenced the hotel’s significance.
Hollywood, The New Cinema Hub
In the late 19th and early 20th century, motion photography came into existence, and soon the term motion picture started to gain weight. The rise of the film industry is often attributed to Thomas Edison. He established the first-ever film production studio, Black Maria, in New Jersey in 1893.
As the industry grew, motion-picture technology became more available, so many more production companies emerged. Most, if not all, of these companies were clustered on the east coast, most notably in New York, Florida, and New Jersey.
By the early 1910s, the industry started moving outside these states to other parts of the US. Most production companies set their eyes on southern California, precisely Hollywood. That was for nothing but because the weather was good all year long.
With the arrival of those film studios and production companies in town, those who worked in the industry flocked to the city, too, including actors, directors, producers, writers, and songwriters. Some chose the hotel as their permanent residence. Some temporarily stayed there while working on projects. Others just came in and out for meetings and conferences on the hotel’s porch.
As a clever businesswoman, Mira took good care of the hotel’s new celebrity residents and utilised every chance to make them feel special and privileged to stay there. For instance, she got their names written in stars on the ceiling above the tables where they usually sat to dine. This act is believed to have inspired the Hollywood Walk of Fame later on.
Mira also developed a fantastic entertainment schedule that took place every day. One part of this schedule was entertaining the residents so they would continue staying at the hotel. Another was to make the hotel stand out even more and continue attracting more and more people.
Concerts took place every Sunday evening. Mira attended most of these concerts and even played the piano for her guests many times. Dances were also organised every Thursday night.
A few years had passed, and the Hollywood Hotel was living its most prosperous days when it encountered lousy luck almost for the first time. While Margaret was still managing the hotel, she and Mira had a disagreement. The disagreement quickly developed into a heated argument which later developed into a dispute which they took to court.
As a settlement to this dispute, Margaret quit her job and went on to build and manage the Beverly Hills Hotel. This affected the Hollywood Hotel badly, especially since Margaret took many hotel guests and her acquaintances with her.
After Margaret left, Mira hired another manager, George Krom. He, too, was an experienced man who successfully managed the hotel for many years. Yet, again, bad luck hit. In 1922, Mira apparently broke some of the terms she had in the contract with Krom. This turned into a lawsuit dispute, resulting in Krom purchasing the Hollywood Hotel and having it all for himself!
Although the owner and the entire management changed, the Hollywood Hotel continued to do pretty well. Even more, tourists came to town to see the rooms where great film stars and songwriters stayed. Everything was just fine until the actual downfall began in the early 1940s.
The Hollywood Hotel had to change owners for the third time when the real estate developer Charles E. Toberman bought all of its shares and officially laid his hands on it. He apparently was not very into the hotel business, or maybe he was, but his mere bad fortune stood between him and his dreams.
Toberman planned to develop the hotel by knocking it down and rebuilding it. But while he finally set his mind to do just that, the United States was forced to enter World War II after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour.
Consequently, thousands and thousands of men, the majority of whom were labour, were sent to war. The harsh economy at the time and the dedication of the county’s budget to the arms industry set massive restrictions on building materials. This, along with the shortage of workers, put Toberman’s plans on hold not just until the end of the war but even for over a decade after that.
As an architectural masterpiece, the Hollywood Hotel was the town’s landmark and cultural centre for about 50 years. It witnessed and highly contributed to the rise of Hollywood as the hub of cinema and entertainment. But while Hollywood continued to grow, the Hollywood Hotel had to say goodbye.
In August 1956, the Hollywood Hotel was torn down to the ground. But instead of returning to life in a new design, it was replaced by an ugly 12-storey consumption entity. Without even a good farewell, the demolition of the Hollywood Hotel broke the hearts of its permanent residents, who found peace and home under its roof and ended an era of glory and success.
Despite the sad ending of the Hollywood Hotel, the town itself was destined for more development and growth until it gradually became the centre of the world’s cinema as we know it today.
Hollywood’s perfect location in Southern California, surrounded by mountains and overseeing the Atlantic, makes it an excellent spot for a fantastic vacation. Although tourists cannot enjoy a cup of tea on the Hollywood Hotel’s porch anymore, they can still visit other stunning tourist attractions such as the Hollywood Sign, the Dolby Theatre, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, tour Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Studios, shop at Rodeo Drive, or dine at The Black Rabbit Rose Magic Show.