Biltmore to Celebrate Renovation : Banquet at Hotel Marks Completion of Work on Interior

Times Staff Writer

Hear ye! Hear ye! A parchment scroll announcing March as "Downtown Los Angeles Renaissance Month" also invites 1,000 business and civic leaders, elected officials, celebrities and others to attend a grand Renaissance Costume Gala today at the Biltmore Hotel to mark completion of its $40-million renovation.

Since Los Angeles-based Westgroup Inc. and First Boston Real Estate & Development Corp., a subsidiary of First Boston Inc., bought the landmark hotel in 1984, the restoration has been under way.

The hotel property extends from Grand Avenue to Olive Street along 5th Street, with another landmark, the Pacific Mutual Building, as its neighbor immediately to the south.

Westgroup, well-known in the hotel field for its restoration of the 1-million-square-foot Adolphus hotel and office tower in Dallas, is also restoring the Pacific Mutual Building, the One Bunker Hill Building and the Newporter Inn in Newport Beach.

Recapture Elegance

Directed by Seattle architect Barnett Schorr, work on the Biltmore amounted to major redecoration to recapture the elegance of the 1920s, 11-story building and reconfiguration, partly to coincide with a new, adjacent, 24-story office tower. The lobby was relocated and several new restaurants and bars were created, along with retaining the popular five-star Bernard's and Grand Avenue Bar.

"The Rendezvous Court," where there will be late-night jazz, was the original lobby with its high, ornately carved-wood ceiling.

The old music room, which was John F. Kennedy's headquarters in 1960 during the Democratic National Convention when he was nominated for President, is the new lobby.

The 1,002 guest rooms, reduced to 728, were refurbished and the hotel's original artwork was spruced up.

Renaissance Tradition

Designed by the New York architectural firm of Schultze & Weaver in the Italian Spanish Renaissance architectural tradition of the era and built in 1923 as the largest and most elaborate hotel west of Chicago, the hotel had vast ceiling murals and intricate plasterwork and sculptings by Italian artist and muralist Giovanni Battista Smeraldi.

Anthony B. Heinsbergen, a renowned Los Angeles artist, also created much of the Biltmore's art and, after Smeraldi's death, was the only artist allowed for years to retouch the Italian artist's works.

For the most recent restoration, Heinsbergen's son, Anthony T. Heinsbergen, was in charge of seeing that the ceiling paintings, including a mural in the Crystal Ballroom, were cleaned and touched up, fresh gold leaf was applied, and walls were reglazed and repainted to contrast and highlight Smeraldi's work.

In addition, several new works of art were commissioned. Among them: three trope l'oeil (illusionistic) murals created by artists Victor Henderson, Walter Lab and Alan Sonneman.

Office Tower Completion

The 132,000-square-foot office tower, designed by the Landau Partnership and under construction on the northwest corner of the Biltmore site (where there was a parking lot), is part of what will be known as the $200-million Biltmore Place, upon completion next fall. And a new arrival-and-departure porte-cochere on Grand Avenue to serve both the hotel and office tower is also yet to be finished.

However, all of the interior work of the hotel is now completed. This includes new lighting and state-of-the-art mechanical, air-conditioning, life-safety and elevator systems.

During its renovation, the historic hotel--where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was planned and the Oscar was conceived on a napkin--never completely closed. Work progressed floor by floor, prompting Bob Williamson, president of Westgroup Hotels, to say last November:

"All our guests are up and ready to go for their early appointments." Jackhammers began then to sound at 6:45 a.m. and, as he conceded, "the sound reverberated throughout."

Hosted World Leaders

Westgroup invited the mayors of several leading U. S. cities to be their special guests today. At the hotel's first opening in the '20s, the then-mayors of both San Francisco and New York were honored guests.

Through the years, the hotel has hosted world leaders, movie stars, royalty and business magnates. Its guest roster included Presidents Reagan, Kennedy and Truman; Great Britain's Princess Margaret; Howard Hughes, J. Paul Getty and violinist Itzhak Perlman. During the 1930s and 1940s, it was the site of the Academy Awards.

Today, more than 100 performers--actors, dancers, musicians and artisans--from the Renaissance Pleasure Faire will entertain celebrities, mayors and others at a black-tie or Elizabethan-costume celebration from 5 to 9 p.m., recreating an evening at court in the golden age of Queen Elizabeth I.

During the party, guests will be able to wander through the hotel's elaborate Renaissance-style public rooms, and at least one of those present, Willis Even, will remember what the hotel was like in its early years.

Even has been a bellman at the Biltmore for 45 years.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World