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Wilshire Grand Hotel Closes Doors Forever Just Shy of 60th Birthday

By Hayley Fox
Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2011, at 06:21PM
Wilshire Grand hotel Tony Pierce / KPCC

Wilshire Grand hotel on Dec. 20, 2011, days before its closing



The heavy, gold-rimmed doors are closing forever at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Downtown, and everything from the retro phone booths to the light fixtures are being sorted, counted and prepped for liquidators.

Once the hotel is officially closed the staff will have their holiday party, where they will get the chance to imbibe in some remaining goods, including a $2000 bottle of brandy left over from one of the bars.

The last hotel guests will stay the night of Dec. 22 and the last day of business will be Dec. 23.

The enormous hotel that opened in 1952, has slowly been scaling back in preparation for the close. The four, once-grandiose ballrooms and 44 smaller conference rooms are now eerily empty or quickly filling with stacks of mattresses, bath towels and chairs that were cleaned out from the closed rooms.

Only three floors of the hotel remain open in its final days, and the remainder are being foraged for liquidation.

However City Grill, one of the few hotel restaurants that remained open, was bustling at lunch time last week with holiday parties and office celebrations.

Opened as the Statler Hotel, the Wilshire Grand is currently owned by Korean Airlines (earmarked by the company's storefront next door to the hotel.)

"We have more problems than we have solutions, engineering-wise with the building," said Marc Loge, director of media relations at the hotel.

Actual guest numbers have stayed high in recent years, Loge said, adding that hotels are 1 of 5 top businesses that are still hiring.

Loge cited the hotel's lack of central air as it's central reason for demolishment instead of renovation. The almost 60-year-old hotel would need a complete, and expensive, installation of air to all the rooms. Instead, the Wilshire Grand will be torn down and two new towers, and office and a hotel, will be erected in its place.

There wont be a cinematic explosion as the hotel implodes though. Because of its location amidst the dense, downtown landscape the building will be taken apart piece by piece.

As the its shuttering day inched closer, only 3 floors remained open and a dwindling 200 employees worked in the hotel and its restaurants.

Many of the Grand's employees have worked there for decades; Loge said 30-50 years is pretty standard, and one Bell Captain has been there for 54 years.

"We're not a young, trendy hotel," Loge said.

He said the hotel has maintained the old-school mentality: be loyal to employees and they'll be loyal to you. Many of these maids, concierges and other rank and file workers were hired in an era where personality counted for more than skills. Now, the job market looks a lot different. And the hotel teamed up with the city to provide options for the employees who will now be out of a job.

Employees can choose either to take a severance package or to return with their seniority status when the new hotel opens in five years. For many older employees, this has encouraged them to take a well-deserved retirement. One young busser at the hotel's City Grill said he's decided to go back to school, and will try and return when the new hotel opens.

Other employees are on the job hunt and will take advantage of the job fairs and resume-building classes put on at the hotel.

Angela Reid and Gonzalo Martin help employees prepare for interviews, fill out job applications online and acclimate them to the tough new realities of job hunting.

The resume is just a first step, but learning how to market yourself is an ongoing effort.

"It's more like a process," Reid said.

The destruction of the hotel wont begin until nearly Spring of 2012, Loge said. In the meantime, all assets that can be sold will.

At a town hall meeting last year, Korean Airline's chairman Y.H. Cho said the Wilshire Grand's infrastructure was obsolete and the rooms, not functional.

"For everything there is a season, and this grand hotel’s season has come to an end," he said.

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