With ocean views selling at a premium throughout Southern California, it can be dumbfounding to encounter a prominent downtown Santa Monica hotel that deliberately averts its gaze from the water.
The boxy former Holiday Inn near the Third Street Promenade, however, is probably not long for this world. At the prompting of city officials, the owners have come up with a plan to raze the aging hotel and erect a three-tiered showplace that embraces the Pacific with outdoor terraces, a rooftop restaurant and sea vistas from every possible angle.
The proposed hotel and condominium development, which could cost as much as $175 million, would undo a decision made in the 1960s when Santa Monica’s seedy seaside posed a potential affront to visitors from the Midwest and other more wholesome environs, hotel executive Debra Feldman said.
The former Holiday Inn at 120 Colorado Ave. was set perpendicular to the coast with a blank wall facing the ocean because the owners of the chain catering to middle-class travelers did not want guests looking out on what the company’s chief designer saw as “the drug-infested, crime-ridden Santa Monica Pier,” Feldman said.
“An architect from Springfield, Mo., was making a calculated choice,” she said. “Unfortunately he forgot that in addition to the pier there was the magnificent Pacific Ocean.”
In a reflection of how far Santa Monica has come since the 1960s, the pier is now the city’s signature tourist attraction, where well-kept shops and a bright amusement park have replaced the sleazy waterfront bars and broken-down storefronts of an earlier era.
When Feldman’s company, FelCor Lodging Trust, rebranded the hotel in March, it changed the name to Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier. Guests are more likely to be from Sydney, Australia, than Springfield. But that’s just the start.
A new coat of white and blue paint will soon be applied to keep the hotel bright for a few years before the wrecking ball arrives, said Feldman, who is head of development for FelCor.
The Texas real estate investment trust bought the hotel in 2004 but didn’t consider structural changes until a few years later when then-city Planning Director Eileen Fogarty told FelCor that its utilitarian property wasn’t going to fit into evolving Santa Monica, Feldman said.
The city and other public and private investors are in the process of spending hundreds of millions of dollars around the hotel.
An Expo Line station is scheduled to open two blocks away in 2015, connecting downtown Los Angeles with Santa Monica. And the seaside city is planning to convert the western end of Colorado into a pedestrian-friendly gateway to downtown and the pier. A new six-acre public park is nearing completion a few blocks to the south on Ocean Avenue.
“This is an amazing site,” architect David Rogers said of the FelCor property. “It has enormous potential to be something interesting.”
Across the street is the Santa Monica Place shopping center, where a $265-million makeover designed by Rogers and his firm, Jerde Partnership, was completed in 2010. Rogers is also leading Jerde’s design work on FelCor’s proposed new hotel.
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FelCor seeks city approval to demolish the existing eight-story, 132-room hotel that opened in 1967, two years after completion of the western end of the 10 Freeway. It would be replaced with three connected buildings terraced in height from west to east at five stories, then eight stories and finally 15 stories.
The hotel would have one or two rooftop swimming pools, and each roof would have landscaping. The middle tower would have a bar and restaurant under a retractable roof. On top of the tallest tower would be a public view platform with a direct elevator to Main Street.
Each of the hotel’s 211 rooms would have an ocean view, Rogers said. The complex, which has yet to be named, would also have 25 condominiums and more than 5,000 square feet of meeting space.
Feldman expects that the hotel project will cater to the city’s increasing international flavor.
More than half of the visitors at the existing Wyndham are from overseas, she said, and she plans to continue to cater to their interests when selecting a hotel operator. She hopes the inn will earn a four-star rating. City approval and construction are expected to take at least five years.
Tourism from overseas picked up last year, said Misti Kerns, president of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau. The largest concentration of visitors comes from Australia and New Zealand, countries the bureau has courted in promotional campaigns in recent years.
Why do residents of countries with spectacular beaches travel thousands of miles to another coast?
“It’s the vibe and the lifestyle here,” Kerns said. “Santa Monica is very different.”