Friday, May 27, 2005

Vagabond Hotels

Earlier this year the fantastic site Polar Inertia posted a photo essay of downtown L.A.'s vagabond hotels.

Once glamorous, the hotels are now a shoddy version of their former selves:

These once lavish hotels now offer weekly/monthly rental rates and offer voucher service, allowing those on public assistance to buy room vouchers in advance, giving the peace of mind that next weeks rent wont be lost to the temptations of the liquour store. Rates range around $125 a week for a single occupancy room. With a revival of high end housing in downtown, many of these hotels are facing plans for conversion into condominiums and lofts, eliminating this last resort from the low income housing options.

The Polar Inertia essay includes shots of Hotel Rosslyn (1913), Barclay Hotel (1896), King Edward (1905), El Dorado (1913), Hotel Cecil (1924), Hayward Hotel (1925)and the Alexandria Hotel (1907).

Above, from Polar Inertia, the bizarre time warp of the Alexandria. Last renovated in the late 1960s, the outside still boasts the design cues of that era, including the red tile. Inside, though, the Alexandria Hotel is a favorite of filmmakers, thanks to features like its Palm Court, which boasts a Tiffany skylight and ornate ceiling (below, from the L.A. Times).

The L.A. Times visited the Alexandria and reports on the hotel's limbo:

When it opened in 1906, the Alexandria was heralded as one of America's grandest hotels, built for $2 million in the Beaux Arts revival style, with a 60-foot-high lobby of Italian and Egyptian marble and extravagant gold leaf ceilings.

Record-breaking crowds welcomed it. Soon the hotel was catering to presidents and celebrities. Within a few years, builders added a $2.5-million, 12-story annex and a second annex of about 60 rooms.

But the Alexandria's heyday was short-lived. By the early 1920s, other more luxurious hotels around downtown had usurped its status. Then the Depression hit, forcing its closure for four years.

Since then, the hotel has changed owners more than a dozen times, undergone several renovations and lost a little prestige with each one. But the Alexandria's legends have grown rich with time.

In 1969, banker and real estate developer S. John Kreedman spent $2 million renovating and redecorating the Alexandria in Victorian d├ęcor, 1970s style — the hotel's last major overhaul.

Kreedman hoped to attract an affluent clientele but within a couple of years the economy tanked, the banks left the area and the heroin trade took over the neighborhood. By the time the Yacoobian family bought the hotel in 1979 for about $4.25 million, the place was overrun with crime. Punk rockers shared the space with drug dealers and prostitutes. The Alexandria, says Martin Yacoobian Jr., "just got beat to death."

At the time, Yacoobian envisioned restoring the Alexandria's glamour, even the gold leaf on the ceiling. But, he says, he couldn't fight the crack epidemic that came to 5th and Spring streets in the mid-1980s. In 1988, then-City Attorney James Hahn sued the Yacoobians for fostering criminal activity and then-Mayor Tom Bradley called it "a magnet for parasites of this society."

Owner Martin Yaccobian says it would be too expensive to convert the hotel to condos or more modern living, given the cost of evicting his current tenants. However, everyone has a price: $30 million, as long as the buyer takes care of the Alexandria's tenants.

Says the paper: It's too complicated and too costly to convert the rent-controlled building to luxury condos, and any developer considering it "is kidding themselves," says Yacoobian.

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