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Restored Hotel Star of Hollywood Comeback Story

January 02, 1986|STEPHEN BRAUN | Times Staff Writer

When the Hollywood Roosevelt opened its doors to the public Tuesday for the first time in two years, the landmark hotel was not quite ready for Hollywood.

Wires and unconnected electric fixtures still hung from some ceilings. Painters were applying last-minute touches to intricate wall decorations. And 150 of the hotel's 400 rooms were still not in adequate shape for guests.

But Hollywood was ready for the Roosevelt. The hotel, with many of its 1930s lobby and ballroom artifacts painstakingly restored, is being hailed by area businessmen and civic leaders as the first visible sign of Hollywood's commercial revival.

"After all the years of promises, this is the first tangible improvement in Hollywood of a major nature," said Terry Jorgenson, president of the Bank of Hollywood. "This is something you can see."

Two years ago, after decades of dwindling business, the Hollywood Roosevelt closed its doors. Its remaining furnishings were sold and only a team of security guards was kept on to discourage squatters from sleeping in its dilapidated rooms.

Those memories have been replaced by visions of a reborn hotel. All last week, Hollywood residents and merchants wandered into the hotel's grand lobby and left in awe.

"On the one hand, you want to bring everyone in to crow about what we've done," said general manager Harold Nay on Monday. "But we still have so much work to do, we don't want the place jammed with people."

Booked for New Year's

As of Tuesday, about 250 rooms--which Nay said will rent for an average of $75 a night--were available and most were booked for the New Year holiday. But 150 other rooms still needed work.

The hotel will not be fully operating until later this spring, Nay said. But already, he said, 30% of the rooms have been pre-sold through the end of 1986. "Our sales people have been busy for the last six months," he said. "They tell us that the building's history is its best selling point."

Indeed, the Roosevelt is rich in history. Built in 1927, the year that the film industry launched its first sound motion pictures, its investors included Sid Grauman, first owner of the Chinese Theater, and actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Two years later, the first Academy Award ceremonies were held in the hotel's Blossom Room.

The hotel cost $2.5 million when it was built. Its recent purchase and renovation cost more than $35 million. The new owners are an investment group headed by the Century Pacific Investment Co. and its president, Irwin Jay Deutsch. The hotel is being managed by Laral Hotels Inc., a chain that manages and owns interest in 18 hotels in the United States.

Over the past year, the firm's new owners financed renovation work that was difficult and sometimes impossible to complete. The most dramatic results took shape in the hotel's lobby, where the detailed Spanish Colonial design--a hand-painted vaulted ceiling, terra cotta tile floors and intricate carved plaster balcony pillars--had been masked by years of neglect.

"When we started work, this was a typical 1950s sleaze hotel," said Liz Martin, the hotel's historian and art coordinator. "The previous few owners covered up what was most distinctive about this place. There was an ugly drop ceiling that concealed the painted ceiling and they had nailed boring carpets over the tile floors."

Using 1930s vintage photographs of the hotel, Martin and a team of workers began meticulously restoring the hotel's architectural treasures. "It was like being on an architectural dig," Martin said. "We didn't want to lose anything valuable."

Ceiling Restoration

It took seven months for painters to restore the lobby ceiling. Another workman spent four weeks simply peeling tar off dark blue tiles that lined one lobby stairwell.

Not everything could be saved, though. The lobby's tile floor was beyond repair. Workers had to replace the original tile with a newer and sturdier terra cotta tile layer and a network of carpets.

The artful renovation effort has been applauded by both preservationists and developers, who frequently have been at odds over the direction that development projects should take in Hollywood.

"I took a very detailed walk through the hotel and I think they did a spectacular job," said Frances Offenhauser, an architect who has represented preservationist interests during the city Community Redevelopment Agency's efforts to forge a redevelopment plan for Hollywood. "Very few developers will go that far with a restoration. I think it bodes well for future development."

Hollywood developers say that the hotel's opening, coupled with the progress of the redevelopment plan (expected to reach the City Council by March) also will brighten the area's financial picture this year.

"It can't help but have a beneficial effect," said George Ullman, president of Grant Parking Inc., a firm that owns nearly 100 parking lots in the Hollywood area. "If they can stay close to full, that could bring as many as 2,000 people to Hollywood every day. Think of the ripple effect to neighboring businesses."

The hotel will also employ a staff of 400, which civic leaders hope will partially make up for the loss last year of Max Factor & Co., a major cosmetics firm that closed its Hollywood headquarters and was relocated in Stamford, Conn., by its parent firm, Beatrice Cos. Inc.

Bruce Canfield, a commercial real estate broker who also serves as the economic development coordinator for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, predicted that the reopening of the Hollywood Roosevelt will lure another major hotel to Hollywood by the end of this year.

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