YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Huntington to Reopen as Rich Blend of Old, New


PASADENA — If Horst Schulze has his way, guests at the new Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel will never hear from hotel employees these three little words:

Hi. Folks. OK.

"We are ladies and gentlemen serving professionally ladies and gentlemen," Schulze, president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., told 600 new employees in training at the hotel last week. Such words are not in the vocabulary of ladies and gentlemen, Schulze said, his German accent and elegant dark suit underscoring his message.

Schulze and a team of 40 from the company's Atlanta corporate headquarters were in Pasadena to oversee final touches before the $100-million, nine-story hotel opens. After five years of work that included a battle with preservationists and the demolition of most of the original hotel, developer Lary Mielke will officially reopen the 85-year-old hotel Monday.

Mielke is counting on the Ritz-Carlton reputation for elegance, refinement and luxury to make the hotel a success. The hotel's history and place in Pasadena's social life is another drawing card, he said.

Yet the hotel opening comes in the middle of a recession that has seen hotel occupancy rates drop in the San Gabriel Valley and throughout Southern California. The supply of hotel rooms in Los Angeles County increased by 5% last year while demand increased by only 2%, according to hotel industry surveys. Overall, county occupancy rates dipped to an average of 68%, from 70% last year, the surveys show. Occupancy rates dipped to 59% in the San Gabriel Valley as a whole and 67% in the Pasadena area.

"Los Angeles in general didn't have a good year in 1990, and it's not going to be a good year in 1991," said Maurice Robinson, a partner in the Los Angeles accounting firm of KPMG Peat, Marwick, which tracks the hotel industry. "Ritz-Carlton is developing a brand-new facility in the face of a softening economy."

Although Pasadena has higher occupancy rates than its surrounding hotel market, the health of that market is based on room rates around $100, Robinson said. The Ritz-Carlton will offer an opening special of $129 until Labor Day. But after that, regular room rates of $145 to $240 will apply, with suites ranging from $350 to $800 daily.

"The question is: What kind of room rate will people pay?" Robinson said. "That's going to be their challenge."

Mielke admits that the scale of luxury in the newly built Huntington is something new for Pasadena and could present a risk. "It's difficult to know how deep the market is," he said.

He also fears that the recession will impact the hotel, but he added: "I really think that we have a history, an elegant property and tremendous curiosity in the community. . . . All those things will help us through these lean times."

Pasadena Finance Director Mary Bradley expects the hotel to bring the city at least $1 million a year in room, sales and property taxes.

The elegance being touted at the new hotel is an attempt to reach back to the hotel's heyday in the 1920s and 1930s.

Built to four stories in 1906 by Civil War Gen. Marshall Clark Wentworth, the hotel opened in 1907 as the Hotel Wentworth. It closed after a disastrous first winter season.

Eight years later, railroad magnate Henry Huntington bought the property and completed a six-story hotel on 75 acres landscaped by the same gardener who designed the gardens of what is now the Huntington Museum and Library--then Henry Huntington's home.

The hotel became a fashionable winter and, later, year-round resort that attracted notable guests including European aristocracy. Pasadena residents regularly booked the hotel ballrooms and meeting rooms for teas, cotillions, dances and 300 wedding receptions a year.

But as the years passed and owners changed, the hotel lost its luster. Business guests became its mainstay, along with permanent residents who by 1973 rented 35% of the rooms. In 1980, the hotel had so declined that the American Automobile Assn. Tour Book rated it with just two diamonds; top hotels get three.

The final blow came in 1985, when the hotel was closed after the main building was found to be seismically unsafe.

Mielke's plan to demolish the old building and put up a nine-story replica with modern conveniences met with opposition from Pasadena Heritage and other preservationists, who gathered enough signatures to force a referendum. In 1987, Pasadena voters approved the demolition.

The battle delayed progress on the hotel for a year, Mielke said. But now the duplicated hotel stands ready for comparison. Nearly $20 million in furnishings have been installed, including antique paintings, tapestries, plates and vases.

Two original ballrooms were retained, the Viennese and Georgian rooms. The Georgian has been converted to a dining room with 18-karat gold leaf on the ceiling, Louis XVI chairs, a Chippendale-style breakfront with Gaudy Welsh plates from the mid-19th Century, a 17th-Century Flemish tapestry and four 17th-Century paintings brought from a house in England.

Los Angeles Times Articles