Alex Calderwood dies at 47; co-founder of Ace Hotel chain

The lobby of the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland, Ore., is shown in July.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Alex Calderwood, a co-founder of the idiosyncratic Ace Hotel chain where hip patrons mingle amid reclaimed furnishings, died Thursday in London. He was 47.

Calderwood’s company announced his death on its website but gave no further details.

The company’s statement called him “our teacher, mentor, guru and most importantly our dear friend.”

The Ace — a name chosen, Calderwood told interviewers, because it represents both the high and the low in a deck of cards — draws tourists in Seattle, Portland, Ore., New York, Palm Springs and London.


In downtown Los Angeles, an Ace Hotel is expected to open Jan. 15. Located in the 1927 United Artists building at 929 S. Broadway, it will feature rooms with such hipster paraphernalia as turntables and guitars, aiming for the kind of retro aura that Calderwood championed in his other properties.

Calderwood disavowed any push toward trendiness.

“We’re not trying to be a quote-unquote hip hotel, per se,” he told The New York Times in 2011.

But with splashes of graffiti art, metal lamps on industrial-style swing arms and rooms equipped with bunk beds, his hotels’ hip labeling appeared hard to avoid.

“The people who frequent the Ace are fashionable, but not overly so; no one appears to turn heads with a striking outfit or outrageous hair style,” The New York Times said. “To do so might be to acknowledge, however subtly, that the Ace — their club, their office, their living room — is a bona fide scene….”

Born in Denver on Jan. 28, 1966, Calderwood grew up in Seattle.

After high school, he managed a clothing store called International News and worked his way up to marketing director. Along the way, he created fixtures with castoffs from a Boeing surplus store.

“He saw what you could do with material nobody else wanted,” his former boss Amrit Shah told the Seattle Times.


In his mid-20s, he and a friend launched Rudy’s, a rock-themed hair salon. The pair parlayed their $12,000 investment into a chain with outlets in the Seattle area, Portland, Los Angeles and New York.

In 1999, Calderwood transformed a 28-room former Seattle flophouse into his company’s first Ace Hotel, charging $65 a night for digs with a shared bathroom. The second Ace, in Portland, opened in 2007.

Calderwood, whose business card featured his name in English, Chinese and Japanese, called himself a “cultural engineer” and told interviewers he thought of his hotels as art projects.

When he opened the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs four years ago, he stocked the room refrigerators with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and turned an old school bus into a poolside bar.

He told the Desert Sun that his typical guest had a passion for art, design and music.

“We don’t really look at it as a demographic, but more of a psychographic,” he said.

After a financial partner withdrew from the New York project, Calderwood acknowledged publicly in 2011 that his heavy drinking had taken a toll. He had been in rehab, he told The New York Times, and at the time of the interview had been sober for five months.

He is survived by his parents, Thomas and Katherine Calderwood; a brother, Tim Calderwood; and sisters Donna Roberts and Tahnee Ferry.