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Battling history's ghosts at Ambassador Hotel site

July 17, 2010 |  7:00 am


Los Angeles architecture is littered with odd, contradictory, brilliant, shallow and convoluted attempts to deal with the idea of memory and with the city's cultural past; repackaging history has been among the city's chief architectural preoccupations from its earliest days. But rarely have the ghosts of an old building haunted a new piece of architecture in quite the way they do at the site of Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, which fill the Ambassador Hotel spot on Wilshire Boulevard and will be completed in time for the new school year this fall.

Ambass2 The schools, designed by the Pasadena firm Gonzalez Goodale Architects, replaced the hotel after the Los Angeles Conservancy and other preservation advocates lost a battle with the Los Angeles Unified School District to save the Myron Hunt landmark, which opened in 1921 and was the site of a half-dozen Academy Awards ceremonies, as well as the murder of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The district then made the controversial decision to ask the architects to re-create the shape of the main hotel building in the new construction, as well as to rebuild from scratch some of its best-known spaces, including the Cocoanut Grove nightclub.

In the end, the architectural result doesn't just show the pitfalls of trying to replicate historic architecture rather than save it. It also suggests that L.A. has slipped into a kind of cultural limbo, no longer young enough to knock down landmarks without a second thought but at the same time rarely mature enough to cobble together the political compromises required to intelligently save them.

You can read my full assessment of the new LAUSD campus here.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Credits: Photographs by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times