For anyone familiar with downtown Los Angeles and its wealth of incredible architecture, consider getting the “inside story” as provided on the L.A. Conservancy Walking Tours.
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The conservancy was founded in 1978 as a non-profit membership organization and its mission is to preserve and revitalize some of the architectural resources in Los Angeles County.
Their first undertaking was to save the Central Library and since that success they have grown to be stronger than 6,000 members.
There were 10 of us on the tour and the docent was extremely knowledgeable about the Biltmore’s complete history, building methods, materials, styles, etc. He even had some inside “secret trivia” to share with us.
Originally the largest hotel west of Chicago when built in the early 1920s, it was a spare no expense, top-of-the line affair fit for royalty, high society and presidents.
With stories about the famous folk that visited including Howard Hughes and Eleanor Roosevelt, and later was the 1960 Democratic Convention headquarters of John F. Kennedy. Then as it turns out, no modern day presidents can stay in the suite of the same name as they have windows and would be too vulnerable to sniper attacks.
Crime fanatics say the Biltmore was where the last known sighting of the Black Dahlia (Elizabeth Short) occurred. Then, it was on to Hollywood glitz as the Academy Awards were hosted at the Biltmore in both the 30s and 40s.
The overall majesty of this hotel and the intricate handiwork displayed throughout was just one treat after another.
One of the trivia facts we learned was that during some private parties (where they would often dare to violate prohibition) one of the large mirrored panels in the corner of the Banquet room actually pulled open so as to allow the bartender and his wares to disappear down a passageway to safety – pulling the panel shut behind him, thus eliminating any proof he was there!
The docent pointed out that many of the large rooms’ ceilings which featured a large one-piece canvas had been hand-painted, however, due to years of tobacco smoke they were tragically destroyed, hence, they spent a great deal of money to repaint them (with the added touch of sealing them with a coat of buttermilk).
Also learned is that even though a building may have “Historical Landmark” status the LA laws are fairly slack as far as interior modifications go – the outside of the building is more strictly enforced and the inside can be changed quite a bit – due to business lobbying efforts the laws were weakened as to allow upgrades inside while the outside maintained a somewhat original look. All in the name of big business.
The tour cost $10 and lasted about one hour and 15 minutes (instead of one hour and 45 minutes as advertised) and unfortunately didn’t cover the lavish art-deco pool area (would need to be a paid guest for access) and a couple of rooms including one of the restaurants. We had actually gone in and then were told by security it was off-limits. Also, we didn’t get to see any actual suites – darn!
It was an inspirational experience and would lead me to look into the other tours they offer.
For more information about the L.A. Conservancy and its variety of tours available, visit: www.laconservancy.org or call (213) 623-2489.