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Designing

Grand Hotel

April 12, 1998|BETTIJANE LEVINE

From the moment it opened 75 years ago at 5th Street and Grand Avenue, the Biltmore Hotel became Los Angeles' grande dame of hostelries. Designed by Schultze & Weaver, the same firm that built the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Biltmore was an ode to Old World elegance, with cathedral-like spaces, hand-painted frescoes by Giovanni Smeraldi and eye-popping amounts of gold leaf and fine wood paneling.

It was 1923. The year of the Charleston and "Yes We Have No Bananas." The Beverly Hills, the Bel-Air and Pasadena's Huntington hotels were all quite new, and all in what was then considered the suburban outback. And so, for a long period during L.A.'s adolescence, the 11-story Biltmore Hotel glittered alone as the city's most desirable inn.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was actually conceived at a dinner table in the Biltmore. The first sketch of an Oscar was doodled on a Biltmore linen napkin.

During World War II, the hotel bustled with military personnel and businessmen, and it later became a social hub for downtown barristers, stockbrokers and members of the garment industry. It was headquarters for John F. Kennedy's campaign during the Democratic National Convention. The besieged Beatles once took a helicopter to the hotel roof, so they could rest in hiding before completing their travels.

In 1969, the hotel was designated a historic cultural monument by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board. In 1984, it was restored to its original splendor, and in 1996, the property was purchased by Regal Hotels International, which renamed it the Regal Biltmore. These days, room rates run from $225 for a standard setup to $800 for a three-bedroom suite.

The still-grand hotel will host many special events this year, including an anniversary ball to benefit the L.A. Conservancy. A Biltmore Museum has opened in the Main Galleria. A special happy hour is held each Thursday from 5:30 to 8 p.m., featuring classic cocktails. An anniversary package for $1,923 (the year it opened) includes room, limos, champagne, massages, flowers, dinner for two at Bernard's, the hotel's four-star restaurant--plus a $500 gift certificate to Bloomie's or Saks. Or you can hit Bernard's just for the special four-course anniversary dinner served on the hotel's original 1923 silver, priced at $75.

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