Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Alexandria Hotel

I know I am a few years off the hipster train but I just recently discovered how awesome Downtown Los Angeles is. And no place encapsulates the edgy, gritty, half-hip,half-derelict, magical wild west meets grand haunted history state of downtown like the Alexandria Hotel.

And for those of you who don't know- hotels are particularly significant for me because I AM ELOISE(by Kay Thompson, look it up!).

The Alexandria Hotel was built in 1906 when LA was still about rich people trying to build a sophisticated west, not about movie stars getting all sorts of wasted,though it eventually played host to that as well. The Palm Court ballroom(now on the LA historic register) featured an original Tiffany ceiling,and the ceilings of the lobby were 80-foot high gilded, molded wonders. Presidents Taft and Wilson spoke there.Churchill and that rascally hottie, Edward VIII, stayed there. Oh, thinking about it just gives me chills!

In the nineteen-teens the Alexandria became a center for the burgeoning Hollywood boomtown. Ruldolph Valentino danced the tango in its famous Palm Court. Charlie Chaplin and Louis B. Mayer had a fist fight in the lobby. United Artists announced its formation there and the list goes on and on. But after the nearby Biltmore Hotel opened in 1923, the Alexandria lost its "most fashionable" cachet and quickly went into decline. It eventually became a transient hotel and its grand ballrooms were used for boxing matches and as training facilities.

The Alexandria has recently changed ownership, and like a good chunk of Spring Street,home to the hipster fest known as ArtWalk, it is in the throes of gentrification. What makes the hotel so fascinating now is that it is in the very beginning of its transformation. You walk into the lobby on any given night and you can find hipsters trickling into the Palm Court for a fresh live show. I sang with this troupe(http://capturedauralphantasy.com) a couple weeks ago. What a cool experience. You will also see wheelchair-bound men who live in the low income housing upstairs waiting for the elevator; modish folk eating in The Gorbals, a super slick uptown eatery; and other scruffy and stylish types drinking in one of the bars- all as a player piano provides ghostly accompaniment and newsreels from silent Hollywood are projected on the walls.

But the most amazing thing about the Alexandria is that, like the Wild West, it is open to exploration- and most of the occupants seemed excited and friendly, turned on by this grand experiment in integrated development . Upstairs in the second ballroom(used in The long and boring life of Benjamin Button), I found a fledgling Cuban Ballet troupe, and made friends with a little girl who danced among the golden paint and exposed electrics as her mother warmed up on the barre. Everything is makeshift and dusty, and every hallway leads you somewhere that seems hidden and magical. A new bar was opening that night, just a few tables and a stage for a jazz quartet with views of the city all around and packing boxes in every corner.

You really can be Eloise and skedaddle anywhere you want. Just don't got in the Palm Court after midnight (Galloway and I got kicked out for that one). I encourage you to do so whenever you are downtown. Maybe have a drink, if you so choose, or see a show. But you don't really need one, because just being at the Alexandria makes you feel like you're on the last frontier between LA's glorious, shady past and it's uncertain brave new future.

Travel: B-
Ease: A
Content: A+
Subjective Coolness: A++
Overall: A

Directions: Take the 101-S to the 110-S and take the Downtown/4th St. exit. Merge onto W. 4th and take a right at S. Spring Street. Start looking for parking lots (ladies and smaller gentlemen-bring a buddy!).
Address: 501 South Spring Street.
Hours: Whenever suppose.
Price: Nothing. Parking will run you $7 to $10, whatever else you want to buy or see is on you!

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