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Preservation: Major Redevelopment Resource : Roosevelt Bids Again to Star in Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

Separating fact from fantasy in Hollywood is rarely easy, and such has been the case with one of the area’s most famous landmarks, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Site of the first Academy Awards, the old hotel in recent times had fallen from the grandeur that had attracted stars and dignitaries for decades.

Just before it closed early in January, 1984, it had an occupancy rate of 5%. Its walls were covered with graffiti. Its two-story lobby, which once awed onlookers with its tiled fountain and marble floors, was furnished with card tables and lawn chairs.

Yet, there was talk for years-- even formal announcements--of again turning the 400-room, three-acre place into a top-notch hostelry.

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Irwin Jay Deutch, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Century Pacific Investment Corp., nodded in agreement. “There was a lot of smoke, a lot of good ideas that few could implement, but it’s happening now. It is funded, under way and set for completion. It will open in the fall.”

Deutch should know. A group including him, his company and Wilshire Investment Corp., headed by A. Bruce Rozet, recently acquired the hotel, on a completed basis, for $29 million from MKB Industries of Santa Monica, which is developing it and will manage it when it is completed.

After leasing the property for about a year, MKB bought it last November from HRH Inc. Kambiz Babaoff, executive vice president of MKB, had started planning the $35-million renovation project, now in progress, with Solberg & Lowe Architects, shortly after the hotel’s closure in early 1984.

“We started the demolition work last September,” he said, “and now we’re rebuilding.”

What they’re building will be even grander than the hotel that opened 58 years ago this Wednesday.

They’re using the Heinsbergen Co., one of the same firms that first worked on the 12-story tower and two-story penthouse, to restore some of the hand-painted, multicolored ceilings that had been hidden or destroyed. They’re using other artisans to refinish tapestry-lined colonnades, hand-carved columns and hand-crafted ironwork.

Creature Comforts Added

False ceilings and plasterboard have already been removed to reveal the original Spanish Colonial design of architect H.B. Traver (who was with the firm Fisher, Lake & Traver). Walls have been removed to re-create the Blossom Ballroom, where the first Academy Awards was held on May 16, 1929.

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However, the 80 cabanas and pool area added during the 1950s are also being refurbished, and the developers are adding some touches of their own: arches in the hallways of the old tower, to give it even more of a Spanish feeling, and creature comforts never imagined when the hotel was planned-- things like cable television with an in-house program describing local tourist attractions.

Situated at 7000 Hollywood Blvd., across the street from the world-famous Grauman’s (now Mann’s) Chinese Theatre, the hotel was in the heart of Hollywood in every sense when it was built by Charles E. Toberman, called the “Father of Hollywood” for his prolific, real estate developments.

Celebrities Interested

Recognizing a need for a luxury hotel in centrally located Hollywood, Toberman headed a syndicate that represented one of the first major mergers between the motion picture industry and civic leaders of the 1920s. It was through this syndicate, known as the Hollywood Holding Co., that the $2.5-million Hollywood Roosevelt, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, was built.

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Members of the syndicate included Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mary Pickford, Joseph Schenck, Louis B. Mayer and Marcus Loew, but celebrity interest in the hotel didn’t stop there.

After it was built, the Hollywood Roosevelt not only accommodated the 270 people attending the first Academy Awards, but also housed the first permanent headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (from 1927 to 1935) in a room that is being renovated for meetings of up to 150 people.

Cinegrill Being Updated

A room nearby is being designed for as many as 250. And downstairs, in the Blossom Room--where the Awards was held and film and literary notables socialized informally every Wednesday night for years--groups as large as 650 will be able to meet in theater or classroom style for banquets, audio-visual presentations or even teleconferencing, if they like. Eight other rooms will be designated for smaller gatherings.

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Around the corner, Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali (who was then designing movie sets) and other famous writers and artists chatted over coffee during the early days of the Hollywood Roosevelt. They met in the hotel’s Cinegrill, which is being turned into the Jazz & Bar Grill with live entertainment every night.

There are also plans for a continental restaurant named Burton’s and a pool-side snack and cocktail area called the Tropicana Bar. Lush landscaping there, including several 60-year-old palm trees, is being retained.

Retaining Film Connection

Attempts are also being made to retain the Hollywood film connection that inspired the story that Errol Flynn invented his famous gin recipe in a back room of the hotel’s barber shop.

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Some promotional literature reads:

“With a little imagination, it’s easy to picture those famous Roosevelt patrons whose gold stars shine on the sidewalk outside the hotel--Flynn, John Barrymore and W .C. Fields--enjoying a gala evening at the hotel.”

As the only luxury hotel for miles in those days, the Roosevelt appealed to other people as well--Winston Churchill for one--but it’s the hotel’s link to Hollywood’s glamorous past that its developers intend to emphasize through such features as its 10 movie-themed suites. Two were described in promotional material like this:

“Guests will be able to surround themselves with the opulence of the antebellum era in the ‘Gone With the Wind’ suite or enjoy the intrigue of Morocco in the ‘Casablanca’ suite, among others.”

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Creating a Synergism

The price of indulging in such nostalgia could run as high as $900 a day, though daily room rates are expected to start at $75.

Backers of the Hollywood Roosevelt want to appeal to business-people as well as tourists, and hope to recapture the film industry trade that the hotel enjoyed in the past.

Deutch elaborated:

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“What we saw in the Roosevelt was the opportunity to restore a historic landmark in Hollywood as part of the general redevelopment going on there, and we thought that it would be a focal point because of its location. It’s centrally located for many parts of the entertainment industry.”

And Rozet added:

“We have this thing called Hollywood that is known worldwide but is embarrassing because of its deterioration. This can give the place a physical identity that will make the people in L. A. proud. It could be a catalyst to eliminate the embarrassment.”

Babaoff, who last year developed and started managing his first hotel--the 320-room BayView Plaza Holiday Inn in Santa Monica, views current development of five or six other hotels in Hollywood as complementary to the Hollywood Roosevelt.

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“The other hotels will create a synergism,” he said. He’s even planning to develop a $25-million office building next door.


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