One of the most treasured historic landmarks in Los Angeles, downtown's Millennium Biltmore Hotel, is up for sale as the owners attempt to cash in on a hot hotel market.
The 1.2-million-square-foot Biltmore is being sold by WHB Corp., a subsidiary of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels of London, which acquired the hotel in 1999 as part of a group purchase of 28 U.S. properties for $640 million. The sellers have not fixed a price for the property, said real estate broker Mark Tarczynski of CB Richard Ellis, who represents Millennium.
The Biltmore sold for a reported $60 million in the depressed real estate market of the mid-1990s and for $219 million to a Japanese buyer in the booming late 1980s. WHB's decision to sell was first reported by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
The Renaissance-themed palace on Grand Avenue was the pride of Los Angeles when it opened in 1923 as the largest hotel west of Chicago. It has been host to heads of state, business tycoons and innumerable events, including the Academy Awards.
Other hotels on the Westside surpassed the four-star Biltmore in luxury decades ago, but the downtown property still boasts spectacular gilded public spaces and a fully-rented office tower that was added in 1986. It also has 235,000 square feet of nearly empty office space in the hotel building that could be converted to condominiums.
"Buyers today are paying record prices, so it is a great time to be selling," said hotel consultant Alan Reay of Atlas Hospitality Group.
The landmark Plaza Hotel in New York recently traded for $675 million, or $839,000 a room. In San Diego, the historic U.S. Grant Hotel traded in late 2003 for $45 million, about $157,000 a room. Reay predicted that the Biltmore would go for as much as $250,000 a room, or about $171 million.
The Los Angeles County hotel market has been recovering in recent months from the economic slump that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Reay said, but downtown occupancy has been lagging because of a lack of convention visitors.
Downtown supporters hope that a Los Angeles City Council decision in February to help subsidize construction of a 55-story hotel and condominium tower next to the Convention Center will lead to more business for all downtown hotels if the new facility is completed in a few years as planned.
In the 1920s, construction of the Biltmore was a similarly ambitious project dreamed up by boosters who wanted to make a statement that Los Angeles had arrived, according to "The Los Angeles Biltmore, the Host of the Coast," a 1998 book by Margaret Leslie Davis. Among its many elaborate attractions were cathedral-like ceilings painted by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Smeraldi while lying on his back atop high scaffolds. The grand Galleria Real, Crystal Ballroom and Music Room attracted discriminating travelers and what The Times called "the smart set" of Los Angeles.