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57 Years Ago: Hotel Statler Opens at Figueroa and Wilshire

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, August 06, 2009, at 11:21AM
Statler Hotel USC Digital Archives / Dick Whittington Studio [digarc.usc.edu]

A 1950's photo of the Statler Hotel, now the Wilshire Grand.

On August 6, 1952, the Hotel Statler welcomed its first paying guest, William H. Thomas of Cleveland and Washington, D.C. The 1275-room hotel cost $25,000,000 to build and took six years to go from announcement to completion.

The structure might not live to see 60. In April, the Korean company that owns the hotel announced plans to tear it down and build two new towers: one hotel and one office. While a start date for that project has yet to be set, it could come in 2011.

When opened, the 13-story hotel complex housed 1275 rooms, all wired up for television. A 150,000 square foot office tower on Figueroa was fully leased. A garage in the project held 500 cars, and the laundry facilities were described as "capable of serving a city of 20,000." 15 conference and banquet rooms had a capacity of 3500.

On February 14, 1946, high officials from Hotels Statler, Inc., arrived in Los Angeles to scout locations for a potential hotel here. The company, which then operated eight hotels in cities to the east, apparently liked what it saw. On March 6 a company spokesman announced that the firm had taken an option for 125,000 square feet of land at Figueroa and Wilshire.

Confirmation of the company's intention to build on the site was given on April 23. The land purchase closed two months later.

Models of the hotel that were shown in the summer of 1946 look much like the hotel that was eventually constructed, with one major exception: a driveway that would open off of 7th street. In February of 1948 the city's Board of Public Works denied a permit application for that driveway, saying that it would too severely congest traffic on 7th street.

That move almost sunk the project. Statler officials asked that Francisco street be opened between 7th and Wilshire, so that the building could be redesigned to have its opening off of that street, but the city balked at the cost.

After a month of debate, the Statler president Arthur Douglas announced the company's intention to defer construction "until such time as adequate street development in the area is provided by the city of Los Angeles."

That apparently was enough to spur action. On April 16 Mayor Bowron sent a letter to City Council saying that state had authorized $120,000 in highway funds to make the street opening feasible. The move was authorized by Council on May 18.

On May 22, 1950, the city issued a building permit for $15,000,000, the largest single permit the city had ever issued.

Groundbreaking for the project was held on July 5, 1950.

There was no pomp or ribbon-cutting when the hotel opened its doors to business at noon on August 6, 1952. The Times reported that "an unorganized, straggling vanguard of prospective guests and sight-seers walked in," and that Cafe Rouge, the one restaurant opened that day, was filled within a half hour.

The pomp would come a few months later, when an official dedication was held on October 27. Governor Warren and Mayor Bowron were both on-hand to speak, as were hundreds of business leaders. Actor Ronald Reagan was the Master of Ceremonies.

Hilton Hotels, which then operated 18 hotels, bought the 8-hotel Statler chain in 1954, and the hotel became the Statler Hilton. It later became the Los Angeles Hilton in 1968, after a $2.5-million renovation project was completed.

In August of 1983, Reliance Group purchased the hotel for $70 million. A $30-million renovation was kicked off in late 1984.

Korean Air Lines purchased the property in 1989 for $168 million.

In 1993, the hotel housed 12 jurors and three alternates during the Rodney King civil-rights case. The group was sequestered for seven weeks; televisions and telephones were removed from their rooms at the hotel.

In February of 1995 the Hilton chain's contract to manage the hotel ran out, and the property became the Omni Los Angeles. Just a few years later it became the Wilshire Grand and the property has been independently run ever since.

Plans for the tear-down include a 60-story office tower and a 40-story hotel tower that would include 800 rooms.

Archived stories from the L.A. Times were used extensively in putting this history together.

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