The Hollywood That Never Was – Behemoth Hotels in Beachwood Canyon

The hotel that would have changed Hollywood.

Early Beachwood

In 1908, the foothills and canyons of Hollywood were still largely undeveloped, more the denizen of jackrabbits and coyotes than of humans. And yet, even at this early stage in Hollywood’s development, there were some who envisioned great building projects where only sagebrush then held sway. One of those visionaries was Albert H. Beach for whom Beachwood Canyon is named. Beach was an early Hollywood developer who owned and developed much of the area in and around Beachwood Canyon in such tracts as Kentland Square and Beachwood Park. One of his early ideas was to develop the Canyon, which was originally known as Claussen Valley (after pioneer resident Henry Claussen), into the Hollywood Country Club. Another of his ideas was for the construction of a major resort hotel on a ridge of the foothills between today’s Gower and Vine Streets. Declared to be “one of the most picturesque and finely situated hostelries in Southern California” Beach’s proposed 1908 hotel was to cost the then enormous sum of $200,000 and was to be designed by well-known Los Angeles architect Albert R. Walker. Walker was to have a major influence on Hollywood and Los Angeles’ built environment after he joined  up with Percy Eisen. Together, as Walker & Eisen,  they designed many major structures including the Taft Building, (1923), the Hollywood-Plaza Hotel (1924), the Fine Arts Building (1925), and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (1926) among others.

"The site is such that the hotel can always be seen, and must always be seen at a distance, so that the effect of the gleaming white building, with red tile roofs against the dark green background of the foothills will always be a pleasing one." - wrote the Times in 1908.

Walker’s design for the hilltop hotel was quite impressive and would have made a dramatic addition to the Hollywood foothills. Spanish/Mission in style, the three story hotel was to contain 180-200 guest rooms with generously-sized public spaces making up the arcaded first floor. Setting off the design was a graceful tower from which magnificent views could, no doubt, be had. But one wouldn’t have had to climb the tower to enjoy charming vistas. As the Los Angeles Times was to point out, “From each side, magnificent views of the mountains and canons can be had and on clear days a distinct glimpse of the sea is obtained from the height.”  Alas, however, Albert Beach’s fine hotel was not to be and it never developed past the planning stage.

Twenty years later, the idea of a hotel on the same site was revived in such a way it was to make Albert Beach’s huge resort of 1908 look like a potting shed. A syndicate of some of Hollywood’s most prominent citizens combined forces with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain to set in motion plans for a behemoth hotel on the same site of Albert Beach’s hotel, this time, however, the cost was to be an astounding $5,000,000. The ultra-luxe hotel was to become the newest and finest link in the prestigious Ritz-Carlton chain that extended from London, Paris, Switzerlnd, Italy, Germany, South America, New York, Boston to Atlantic City. Unlike Beach’s fantasy, which never got off the drawing boards, Hollywood’s proposed Ritz-Carlton was actually in the preliminary construction phase when the effects of the Great Depression snuffed out the grandiose scheme forever. As the illustrations attest, had the Ritz-Carlton made it to completion it would have not only dramatically changed the skyline of central Hollywood it would have caused a major change in how the whole area surrounding it developed.

Gordon B. Kaufmann's original concept for the Hollywood Ritz-Carlton.

Gordon B. Kaufmann FAIA (1888-1949)

The Hollywood Ritz-Carlton was designed by Gordon B. Kaufmann, one of the finest and most important Southern California architects of his day. His design was a stunning Mediterranean pile that incorporated elements from Spanish/Italian/Moorish and even Mission into its overall design. In an interview with the Times, Kaufmann gave a verbal walk through into the future hotel:

“Passing through the foyer from the forecourt, guests pass the offices of the assistant managers and enter the main rotunda. To the right is a room devoted entirely to the ladies, a drawing-room with the necessary dressing-rooms adjacent. Shops  will be provided on the main floor as well as on the lower floor of the hotel. There will be Turkish baths, beauty parlors, stock brokers rooms with direct private wires and minature private theaters for pre-view projection.

“Straight ahead is the main living room, which overlooks the entire valley and the city and has three exposures. On one side of the living room will be an inclosed loggia with the sun pouring in all day long. On the other side of the living room is an open loggia where tea can be served in the afternoon. This loggia gives onto the main patio, which again faces down over the city, offering the entire panorama reaching from Los Angeles to the ocean. Parrallel to this loggia is a galleria approximately 100 feet long and twenty feet wide, which leads to the main dining-room as well as to the grill room and to the private dining rooms. The main dining room again has three exposures, east, south, and west and enjoys the same view as does the living-room. Below the main dining room is the ballroom, which gives out onto a garden on a lower level. The ballroom will have ample capacity to allow 500 persons to dine and dance.

“The upper floors of the hotel are given over to sitting rooms, bedrooms and suites of various sizes and will, for the most part, enjoy east, south and west exposures. The tenth and eleventh floors consist of one suite each, which will be unsurpassed in their location, as the rooms will face all four points of the compass and will tower high above the ground level. Above these suites is an observation tower connected with elevators connected to the main floor.”

In addition to the main hotel building, there was also to be a separate supper club built on the grounds  around an enclosed patio to be known as the Patio de Floresta. Additionally, built amidst the twenty-two acres of surrounding gardens, were to be a series of opulent private villas. These generated so much excitement among the wealthy that requests for reservations were already being received before the first spadeful of earth was turned on the project.

Kaufmann's revised perspective for the hotel after consultation with the New York Ritz-Carlton board and New York architect Charles M. Wetmore (of Warren & Wetmore). Compare with with earlier design.

And that spadeful almost turned. On February 7, 1930, the project was inagurated with a gala black-tie dinner party thrown outdoors on the hilltop site. As more than 200 of Los Angeles’ most prominent citizens dined under the stars they were serenaded by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra while twenty of Otto K. Oleson’s multi-colored searchlights strafed the sky above illuminating the Goodyear Blimp, Volunteer, which circled overhead throughout the evening. By November, drillers had begun boring test shafts into the bedrock. Construction materials were arriving on site daily and a new construction command center was completed and fully operational. The Ritz-Carlton board was emphatic that the mammoth project be completed and fully operational by the end of 1931 in time for the 1932 Olympic Games. But, just as construction was beginning the grip of the Great Depression was strangling the economic life out of the country and by the time of its planned formal opening in November 1931, where should have stood the beautiful, elegant and ultra swank Hollywood Ritz-Carlton, was an abandoned site with rusting equipment surrounded by sagebrush, which had reasserted its authority over its former domain.

The Ritz site from Beachwood Drive (LAPL)

In 1937, 15 of the former 22 acre site was subdivided into building lots and marketed with the ironic name of Ritz-Carlton Manor.

A Google Earth Image of the site today at the head of Argyle Avenue between Beachwood Drive (E) and Vine Street (W) above Franklin Avenue.


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4 Responses to The Hollywood That Never Was – Behemoth Hotels in Beachwood Canyon

  1. Taylor Young says:

    I haven’t been commmenting lately because it’s been crazy, but your articles keep getting better and better. I love this one!

  2. Robert L. Coatney says:

    Great article. If these hotels had been built I wonder if our little community would even exist today.

  3. It looks like Shangrila. Interesting. Thanks.

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