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Thursday, February 2, 2006

Pay Your Last Respects Tonight

I'll see you at tonight's Ambassador Hotel Wake!

By the way, most of the festivities will actually take place at the Gaylord apartments lobby, with spillover heading to the HMS Bounty. Look for the tables that say "Bloggers Corner, sponsored by The Ambassador's Last Stand" to find some familiar faces -- or at least some familiar names from the L.A. blogsophere!

Meanwhile, the front page of today's L.A. Times has a nice story by Bob Pool on Carlyn Frank Benjamin, who grew up at the Ambassador:

Benjamin lived at the Ambassador between 1921, when it opened, and 1938. Her father, Ben Frank, managed the hotel and her grandfather, Abe Frank, was the hotel company's vice president and the person she credits with creating the palm-decorated Cocoanut Grove. She likes to point out that she and the hotel were born five months apart.

"The Ambassador and I are the same age. Except I'm still here," the 84-year-old Brentwood resident said Tuesday as she gazed sadly at the remains of what many consider the symbol of Los Angeles' golden era.

Tonight, Benjamin will be among hundreds who are expected to gather across Wilshire Boulevard from the hotel site for a wake that will commemorate its role in defining Los Angeles' popular culture.

But when the stories are swapped, none are likely to be as vivid as Benjamin's.

As a young child, she roamed the grounds, building castles in the hotel golf course's sand traps.

The pastry chefs whipped up a giant chocolate cake for her third birthday and Josephine, the hotel organ grinder's trained monkey, showed up to entertain her and her friends.

As she grew older, Benjamin learned to swim in the hotel's pool, practiced marksmanship on its rifle range and explored every nook and cranny of the 500-room resort.

She cajoled staff members into saving so many hotel newspapers for 3rd Street Elementary School's annual paper drive that her class won the collection contest every year. After school each day, she had snacks in the Ambassador's Fountain Room cafe. In the lobby, she regularly encountered royalty and celebrities.

She met pilot Charles Lindbergh there shortly after his pioneering 1927 transatlantic flight. She considered Hollywood movie impresario Sid Grauman, who was a hotel resident, an unofficial uncle.

Gossip columnist Walter Winchell lived next door and his young daughter was a friend of Benjamin and her younger sister, Jackie Schwartz, now a Santa Ana resident.

"The elevator operator would let me practice running it when no guests were in it. I'd go from the basement to the sixth floor — we'd bounce around until I got it level at each floor," Benjamin said.

Shameless self-promotion moment... Pool quotes me toward the end of the story:

Also involved is Michael Schneider, a 32-year-old Variety writer who chronicled the Ambassador's final days on a website that attracted worldwide attention. "The hotel symbolizes the glamorous old Hollywood and Los Angeles that my generation never got to experience firsthand," Schneider said.

Hope to see you all tonight!

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