Santa Monica Hotel May Get Luxe Price

Times Staff Writer

One of Southern California’s oldest resorts, the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, is expected to be sold for about $210 million and undergo a further upgrade amid rising demand for high-end hotel rooms on the Westside.

The price for the ocean-view hotel where U.S. presidents played and actress Greta Garbo went to be alone would be among the highest in California on a per-room basis at almost $700,000.

The much newer Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel sold for about $840,000 per room in May and the historic Hotel del Coronado in San Diego set the state record of $1 million per room last year.

The Miramar’s owners, St. Louis-based hotel investment firm Maritz, Wolff & Co., said Thursday that the sale was in final negotiations, though it had not entered escrow. Co-founders Philip F. Maritz and Lewis N. Wolff declined to identify the buyer. Real estate sources, who asked not to be identified because the deal is still pending, said Texas computer magnate Michael Dell outbid competitors.


Dell, founder of Dell Inc., the world’s largest computer manufacturer, manages his family finances through an entity called MSD Capital. Among its real estate investments are two Four Seasons hotels in Hawaii, including the Hualalai Resort, which it acquired last month.

MSD Capital representatives declined to comment on the Miramar.

Hoteliers are taking advantage of the Westside’s booming tourism market and are upgrading their properties so they can raise rates and stay competitive, said Alan Reay, president of hotel real estate firm Atlas Hospitality.

Santa Monica and Marina del Rey combined lead the state’s metropolitan areas in average hotel room prices, according to a recent report by the California Hotel & Lodging Assn. Their average daily rate in April was $193, up almost 9% from the same period a year earlier. Average occupancy rose slightly to 79.5%.


Though it has a gilded past, the Miramar doesn’t quite offer the five-star luxury of such high-end competitors as the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach or the Peninsula Beverly Hills.

The Miramar has “a five-star name and a four-star” product, Reay said.

In Santa Monica, the Miramar competes for tourists with Shutters Hotel on the Beach and Casa del Mar for the free-spending crowd, Reay said.

The 302-room Miramar sits atop a bluff overlooking Santa Monica Bay on a lushly landscaped block at the western end of Wilshire Boulevard at Ocean Avenue. It was once the mansion of John P. Jones, a U.S. senator and one of the founders of Santa Monica. Jones named his home “Miramar,” and a fig tree his wife planted in its front yard in 1889 still stands in the hotel’s courtyard.


The hotel opened in 1921 and soon became a getaway for movie stars and other celebrities. A six-story wing of apartments was added in 1924 to accommodate guests planning extended visits. The notoriously private Garbo moved in and lived there for four years.

Poolside bungalows were added in the 1930s. Renters there have included Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh, according to the hotel.

John F. Kennedy visited often during his presidency, when brother-in-law Peter Lawford and the Rat Pack were at the peak of Hollywood’s social scene. President Clinton stayed there in 1994 with guests Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg.

Maritz said that more could be done to upgrade the Miramar to top-tier status.


“We brought the hotel to a certain level,” Maritz said. “On a longer-term basis, the buyer can take it still further.”

Maritz and Wolff bought the Miramar for about $90 million in 1999 from its Japanese owners. Wolff said his firm invested almost $25 million on improvements.

“Our goal has always been to acquire assets, improve them and then sell them,” he said.

Most of the firm’s investors are wealthy individuals, Maritz said. After the sale, the firm will own 11 hotels in the U.S. and the Caribbean.


Several Westside hotels have been renovated in recent months, consultant Reay said. Others that have planned or have made improvements include the Sofitel Los Angeles, Beverly Hilton, Hyatt Regency Century Plaza and Hotel Bel-Air.