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Old star, blazing scene

The Roosevelt has rocketed back on the A-list. And, as with any good celeb bio, it comes with plenty of drama.

July 31, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

The Roosevelt hasn't been this stylish since the 1940s. Its Spanish Colonial style, the midcentury Palm Springs feel of the Tropicana, the lobby's tiered fountain and painted beam ceiling and the hotel's rich history as the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929 continue to lure event planners and L.A. clubgoers, who have tired of manufactured glamour. To them, the hotel's Hollywood pedigree renders it instantly hip.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford were among the hotel's original investors. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable retreated to its penthouse and Marilyn Monroe posed in a suntan lotion ad by the pool, the bottom of which was painted by David Hockney in 1987.

"It's going to have longevity, whereas other things open and burn out really fast," says David Rodgers of the hotel. His event company, Rabin Rodgers Inc., organized a July 20 party in the Roosevelt's candlelit lobby to promote Citizens of Humanity jeans.

This renaissance began when real estate developer Goodwin Gaw and his partner, David Chang, who bought the hotel from Clarion Hotels in 1995, partnered with ICM agent Michael Gruber in early 2003. At the time, the Oscars had recently moved to the Kodak Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex and the neighborhood was poised for revival.

Gruber, now the co-owner of the Tropicana, helped bring in designer Dodd Mitchell, whose work includes L.A. hotspots such as Dolce, Katana and Falcon, and Demme, widow of filmmaker Ted Demme and a well-regarded music supervisor whose films include "Mean Girls" and "Garden State." Gruber was also key in the hiring of Pomeranc's Thompson Hotel Group, which handles the 60 Thompson hotel in Manhattan's SoHo and the Sagamore Hotel in Miami's South Beach.

Demme has emerged as the most public face of the new Roosevelt. She's at the hotel every night and personally approves the Tropicana guest list and oversees events in the lobby. A strong-willed entrepreneur, she "moved in here like Gen. Patton leading an invasion," one insider recalled. But to Tropicana guests, Demme is also personable and warm, comfortable in her skin, greeting everyone with bear hugs and kisses and "Hey, baby!"

"My job has been to brand and bring in and change the clientele and bring Hollywood and its tastemakers to this place," says Demme. "There's definitely a formula to it."

Demme's crowd may come to Hollywood for the Roosevelt, but they'll find several exclusive clubs around the corner once they get there. In the last year, Geisha House, a sushi restaurant and sake bar co-owned by Ashton Kutcher, the Cabana Club and Mood have opened in the neighborhood within a few blocks of one another. Plans are underway to open a W Hotel at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in 2008.

"In a lot of ways [the Roosevelt's success] is definitely reflective of the evolution that's occurred along Hollywood Boulevard and within Hollywood nightlife," says Apodaca. "It's spiraled upwards into a different kind of scene."

By fall, the Roosevelt will house even more star attractions. Prominent Southern California chef Tim Goodell and his wife, Liza, who recently opened the restaurant Dakota at the hotel, will add a hamburger stand called 25 Degrees. The couple are also revising the hotel's room service and poolside menus. Demme will open another, more exclusive, club named Teddy's and New York hairstylist April Barton, whose clients include U2 and Elvis Costello, will cater to VIPs from a space overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. A spa, a gym and newly updated rooms are in the works.

On a recent night at the Tropicana, the music was retro rock and guests leaned into one another on cushioned lounge chairs and chatted like old friends while they awaited designer Tracey Ross, who was celebrating her birthday. Around 10 p.m., Lohan perched near an outdoor fireplace while Gisele Bundchen lined up at the bar and Nicole Richie enjoyed a private dinner at the pool's end. Herds of other long-limbed blonds with fashionably mussed young men in tow decorated the space in between veteran scenesters Kelly Lynch, Michael Des Barres and New York nightlife impresario Amy Sacco.

"If I'm in my 20s, I want to stay here," says Gruber. "If I'm in my 30s, I want to play with the 20-year-olds. If I'm in my 40s, I want to think I'm playing with the 20-year-olds."

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