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Style & Culture

Remains of the day

Once a movie industry haunt, the Ambassador Hotel is preserved in a photo exhibition.

December 16, 2005|Christopher Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

IN its last months before demolition began in September, the Ambassador Hotel was trafficked mostly by feral cats.

But one weekend last March, a team of Hollywood location managers and teenagers from the Jefferson High School Academy of Film and Theatre Arts slipped in and mounted one of the last photo shoots at the 84-year-old landmark building that was once the belle of Wilshire Boulevard.

Using donated cameras, the 60 students and their mentors from the Location Managers Guild of America prowled the bedraggled property, which hadn't seen a paying overnight guest in 16 years. (The Los Angeles Unified School District, owner of the property, prevailed this year in a battle against preservationists and announced plans to demolish the hotel and put up schools on the site.)

The eerie results of that shoot will hang in a 38-image exhibition outside the City Hall office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo through mid-January. It's called "Last Looks: The Ambassador Hotel," and the imagery includes an empty swimming pool, a room full of dust-caked porcelain sinks and a patch of carpet sprouting mushrooms.

About half of the images were shot by the Jefferson high schoolers, the rest by location scouts and their managers, who spend many of their working days finding likely filming locations, then photographing them for the appraisal of directors and producers.

The student shoot, the scouts and managers reasoned, would be a fitting farewell for a site that, from its earliest days in the 1920s, served as an incubator for the movie business. Discerning viewers will find the Ambassador as a location in such films as "The Graduate," "The Fabulous Baker Boys, "Forrest Gump, "Pretty Woman" and "L.A. Story."

The Jefferson academy, founded in 1996, is a 110-student campus-within-a-campus at Jefferson, a low-income school that was the site of Latino-versus-black violence earlier this year. The location scouts and managers, academy coordinator Steve Bachrach said, have emerged as "secret friends" to students hungry for contacts outside their neighborhood.

Until that day of shooting at the Ambassador, "I didn't know that there were location managers," said Alicia Duron, a 15-year-old junior who has a picture of the Cocoanut Grove lounge's exterior in the show. "It was fun to learn to take pictures and be in an old hotel that was about to be torn down.... I didn't think they were going to come out that good."

The show is the third step in the student-scout collaboration -- the shoot was the first, and a summer awards banquet was the second -- and the result is a sort of bridge between the Ambassador's history and future.

School district officials say they will build a three-school campus on the property, with an elementary school to open in 2008, followed by middle and high schools the next year.

*

"Last Looks: The Ambassador Hotel"

Where: The public corridors of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's office, 8th floor, City Hall East, 200 N. Main St., Los Angeles

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays

Ends: Jan. 13

Price: Free

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