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Divergent Groups Remain Opposed to Ambassador Plan

Some want the hotel razed for K-12 school; others would like to see more of it preserved.

September 24, 2004|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Some begged school officials to save the once-glamorous Embassy Ballroom, the ornate lobby, the history. Others pleaded for a new school at the historic Ambassador Hotel, as soon as possible.

At a public hearing Thursday, preservationists, parents and educators remained divided but mostly unsupportive of Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer's plan to convert the hotel to a school by preserving parts of the building while razing the rest.

"No taxpayer dollars should be used for preservation," said John Perez, president of the Los Angeles teachers union and one of the nearly 50 speakers who addressed the school board at the meeting. "Every single dollar must go toward building seats for the students of this district, which is so severely overcrowded."

In contrast, Cindy Olnick of the Los Angeles Conservancy said that under Romer's plan, "what we all think of as the Ambassador Hotel would be torn down.... It is little wonder that no one who cares about the Ambassador's rich history views this as a serious attempt to compromise."

Romer's $318-million plan would save some historically significant parts of the Wilshire Boulevard hotel, where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, but demolish most of it in favor of a new kindergarten-through-12th grade school on the 23-acre site. The 4,200-student school would relieve overcrowding in the densely populated area.

Two opposing groups have criticized the plan.

The Los Angeles Conservancy wants the district to preserve most of the hotel, and it believes the plan does not go far enough to do so. At Thursday's hearing, the conservancy's Linda Dishman said "we can structure this project in a way that will allow for more real preservation."

"Los Angeles residents would never forget the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel," she added.

The RFK-12 Coalition supports demolishing the hotel to build the school. It opposes Romer's plan because about $15 million of the project's budget would go toward preservation.

"They want to take the money away from the students. That is not fair," said local resident Guillermina Lopez, who supports RFK-12's position. "We want the school in our community."

Victor Viramontes of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said his organization is not against preservation, "but not at the cost of the education of our children."

"Don't give away a single cent of school construction money," he said. "The kids simply can't afford it."

Romer's plan would restore the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub to its Moorish design, becoming the school's auditorium. Most of the shops beneath it would remain.

The Paul Williams-designed coffee shop would be preserved as a teachers lounge. The Embassy Ballroom would come down, and most other areas would be razed to make room for three campuses.

The Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Romer's proposal Oct. 12. Even if the board approved the plan, it could be tied up in court if one of the opposing groups sues the district.

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