Hotel Now Just a Memory

Times Staff Writer

Demolition workers brought down the last remnants of Wilshire Boulevard's historic Ambassador Hotel on Monday as they continued to clear space for a $270-million Los Angeles Unified School District campus.

Only the Cocoanut Grove portion of the 85-year-old hotel remains standing. It will be converted into an auditorium for the site's planned high school.

Workers from Cleveland Wrecking Co. started the demolition in mid-September. Removal of steel, concrete and other hotel rubble should be completed by mid-March, Jeff Droubay, the company's vice president and project manager, said earlier this month.

The deliberate pace of the teardown has alternately perplexed and pleased passersby and office workers in nearby high-rises in the 3400 block of Wilshire Boulevard.

Some said they would have preferred a more spectacular finale for the 500-room hotel, which for generations was a hangout for Hollywood celebrities. But demolition company officials ruled out the use of explosives, which have leveled other high-profile buildings across the country. Dust from an implosion could have carried asbestos and lead paint residue from the old hotel into the neighborhood, they said.

Others, however, said they appreciated the careful removal of hotel furnishings and fixtures, and the salvaging of the hotel's tile roof by Cleveland Wrecking. School officials said the company kept those items as part of its payment for the site's clearance.

According to school board member David Tokofsky, the salvage deal allowed the demolition company to reduce teardown fees by about half, to less than $10 million.

Along Wilshire Boulevard, it was hard to miss the milestone.

"It's all gone, except for the Cocoanut Grove," said Marko Pesic, who has watched the demolition from across the street, where he is a front desk clerk for the Gaylord Apartments.

The new high school will feature a Wilshire-facing facade laid out on the same basic footprint as the Mediterranean-styled hotel, which was constructed in 1921 with four guest room wings that swooped out in a lazy H shape when viewed from the air.

Jim Cowell, the school district's director of construction, said the hotel's front lawn will be replaced with an athletic field. That will allow retention of "the iconic view from Wilshire," as he put it earlier this month.

Preservationists had hoped that school leaders would preserve at least the front two wings of the hotel by converting old guest rooms into classroom space. Such an adaptive use would have maintained the hotel's familiar look.

But planners said that idea was too costly and impractical. They did agree to preserve portions of the hotel's pantry, where a gunman mortally wounded Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 1968 as the presidential candidate emerged from an election night victory speech in the nearby Embassy Ballroom. It is in storage, and a panel of experts will decide what to do with it, Cowell said.

In addition to a high school, the Ambassador's 25-acre grounds will house a middle school and, on the south side, an elementary school. In all, 4,200 students will be accommodated when construction ends at the end of this decade.

Last month, methane gas was unexpectedly discovered beneath the hotel site.

That forced officials to announce two weeks ago that classroom builders probably would be required to install an impermeable membrane beneath the school buildings and install a network of pipes to vent the underground gas.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday January 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction Ambassador demolition -- An article in Tuesday's California section about the razing of the Ambassador Hotel referred to slain presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy as Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
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