On New Year’s Day 1921 the Schines family opened the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Three thousand people, including a bevy of exquisitely gowned women helped make it a very notable event. What had once been a barley field instantly became a Mecca for the rich and famous of the world. The 600 room hotel property with a collection of 76 bungalos rivaled the best of the best, and turned Wilshire Boulevard into the 5th Avenue of the City of Angels. The hotel's swimming pool was the world's largest.
From the onset the Myron Hunt designed hotel was considered 'the jewel in the Los Angeles crown', and became ‘the place to be’ for Hollywood royalty, and real royalty. It was a glamorous home-away-from-home for people like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Howard Hughes, Harold Lloyd, Doris Duke, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, Mary Pickford, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Jim Garner, Robert Conrad, Robert Stack, Robert Wagner, Ronald Reagan and Angie Dickenson…to name a few thousand. The acting Barrymore family lived at the hotel during the filming of Rasputin. The Ambassador Hotel was owned by one family, the Schines, from its opening in 1921 until 1971.
Shortly after opening in 1921, The Ambassador Hotel’s grand ballroom was changed into the sprawling 1,000-seat Cocoanut Grove. Designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, everything was over the top, The Moroccan style, gold leaf and etched palm tree doors opened to a plush grand staircase (considered perfect for making entrances) that lead to private seating areas lined with cocoanut trees of paper maché that had been taken from the Oxnard beaches where they were used in the filming of “The Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino. Stuffed monkeys with blinking eyes swung from the tree branches, and stars twinkled in the blue sky ceiling, where a full Hawaiian moon hung next to a painted landscape and splashing real waterfall.
The Cocoanut Grove always featured the best jazz bands, big bands, and swing orchestras, led by talents like Bing Crosby and the in-house musical director Freddy Martin. Often their performances were broadcasted all over the country on nighttime radio increasing the Grove’s reputation as “the place to be”. Throughout the years, many iconic stars of music and film considered the club their “home away from home”. The Cocoanut Grove was also host to six Academy Award ceremonies, including the first ceremony to feature the Oscar statuette in 1930.
The Cocoanut Grove nightclub was favorite nighttime hangout for the city's glamorous elite, and actress Marion Davies once rode a horse through the lobby for the amusement of her lover, publisher Randolph William Hearst. Considered the “Playground of the Stars,” the Cocoanut Grove was frequented by Hollywood celebrities, gossip columnists, and entertainment reporters for decades where patrons dined and danced to musical entertainment by popular orchestras and artists. Live broadcasts from the Cocoanut Grove were a popular feature of nighttime radio, allowing millions of people to enjoy and even dance to the music in their homes. Performances led by famous bandleaders such as Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim were broadcast around the globe and famous artists like Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and The Supremes performed nightly. The Ambassador was said to have launched the careers of Joan Crawford, Merv Griffin, and Barbra Streisand. Marilyn Monroe also signed her first modeling contract with the Blue Book Modeling Company at the hotel.
After 1968 the hotel’s image was tarnished and its popularity began to wane. By the 70's business at the hotel began to suffer as the surrounding neighborhood experienced a spike in crime and gang activity. In an attempt to bring the languishing nightclub back to life in the 1970's, Sammy Davis Jr. remodeled the Cocoanut Grove into a Las Vegas-style showroom. Owners of the hotel also neglected to repair and maintain the structure as they too were struggling financially. Consequently, after 68 years of service to the world, the hotel finally closed it's doors to the public in 1989.
For decades Hollywood used the hotel as one of the most filmed locations in the entertainment industry. The 24-acre property gave filmmakers a wide range of locations to use as sets. As the hotel was being demolished in 2005, Emilio Estevez’s Bobby was the last film to be shot at the hotel.
Check out the montage to see just a few of the films that were shot there
Gus Arnheim (Sept.4,1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Jan.19,1955 in Los Angeles, California) was an early popular band leader. He is noted for writing several songs with his first hit being "I Cried for You" from 1923. He was most popular in the 1920s and 1930s. He also had a few small acting roles.
In 1930-31, Arnheim had an extended engagement at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. When Paul Whiteman finished filming The King of Jazz for Universal, The Rhythm Boys vocal trio, consisting of Bing Crosby, Harry Barris and Al Rinker decided to stay in California and they signed up with Arnheim's band. While the Rhythm Boys only recorded one song with Arnheim, "Them There Eyes", which also happened to be The Rhythm Boys final recording, Arnheim's Orchestra backed Crosby on a number of songs released by Victor Records in 1931. These popular records, coupled with Arnheim's radio broadcasts featuring Crosby's solo vocals, were a key element to the beginning of Crosby's popularity as a crooner. Crosby recorded his first solo hit, ''I Surrender Dear,'' with Arnheim. In 1929 they took a short leave of absence from the Grove to play at London's Savoy Hotel and the Ambassadeurs Club in Paris. In the late 1930s Arnheim revamped and updated his group, scoring big at the Congress Casino in Chicago with his new swinging sound.
In 1930 and 1931, some notable people worked in or with Arnheim's band: Fred MacMurray played clarinet and tenor sax in 1930-31 and sang on one recording, Russ Columbo played violin in 1930 and sang, Future popular bandleader Jimmie Grier was staff arranger during this time, Eddie Cantor and Joan Crawford, each recorded a song for Arnheim on July 1931. Arnheim retired from the band business after the war. He died in 1955.
The Cocoanut Grove Auditorium is a re-creation of the famous nightclub...