Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bizarre Fantasy Story About Pasadena's Ritz-Huntington Hotel!

In today's LA WEEKLY, the writer worries the new owners of Pasadena's Ritz-Huntington might be tempted to tear down or otherwise destroy the 'old' hotel's character.

The century-old hotel has been sold by the Los Angeles County Retirement Association to Langham Hotels International, which operates a small chain of luxury hotels around the globe, but only one in the United States. Langham’s parent company, the Hong Kong–based Great Eagle Holdings, has announced that the venerable Ritz Huntington will be quickly put to a $25 million renovation.

In the abstract, this might be seen as a benign development or even good news for an old hotel that perhaps could use a new coat of paint or some reinvigorated landscaping
Now this is shock because a previous owner DEMOLISHED the century old building! They then painstakingly built a brand new structure from the foundation up (in 1992) as an exact replica. They did save some of the architectural detail and much of two of the public rooms. But everything else is... new due to earthquake damage to the old structure.

The writer, though, is seems to be unaware of this when one reads paragraphs such as:

Our era has seen the triumph of paper-thin wealth and the lemming like stampede it has triggered to constantly buy or build something “new and bigger.” Like a window to our past, the very essence of the Ritz Huntington hearkens back to a less-frenetic, more-deliberate time. A little worn around the edges, perhaps, but it’s a century down the road and the Ritz Huntington still offers an air of grace.

There he clearly states the building is an old building that is worn around the edges - and not a building built in the prior decade. Plus his claims that the style of the Ritz-Huntington is in danger due to our collective culture is contradicted by fact when the prior American owners rebuilt the hotel back at a time when developers were far less likely to restore, much less rebuild, an older building, they even then recreated the old hotel.

Equally odd are his observations about two of Downtown's older hotels:

WHAT FUTURE CAN A CIVIC HEIRLOOM like the Hotel Figueroa look forward to in downtown L.A. today? As the power players’ shining new cathedral of L.A. Live — yet more restaurants and concert venues — rises just across Olympic Boulevard, the subtle 1920s grandeur of the “Hotel Fig,” with its rustic Moroccan interior and breezy Veranda Bar, may as well be on a deathwatch.

Up the street at the Biltmore, where I once parked cars as a valet a generation ago, I suspect the same pressures will come to bear. An old-world hotel is attempting to survive an era that’s characterized by people driving vehicles bigger than its rooms.

The idea that either the Hotel Figueroa or the Biltmore - two hugely successful hotels because of their character - are in danger of being demolished demonstrates a lack of understanding of everything driving the downtown boom.

The existence of these historic treasures is one of the main reasons new development is happening in the area. In fact, one of the developers of LA Live - Tim Leiweke, bought and and restored a low rise single story historic building in the area for a restaurant rather than tear it down for high rise condos.

And AEG - the overall developer of LA Live - also bought a the historic theater building (the old Variety Arts Center) with limited commercial potential and, rather than tearing it down or making it into something it was not - instead held it until they could find another developer who would restore the building and reopen it as several live theaters and performance venues.

Yes, that's right, they bought and saved an old theater building - that will compete with them - because of how much they value the historic buildings of Downtown. They are going out of their way to buy and save historic buildings with architectural distinction in their area when they could make more money demolishing them. The LA Live developers also strongly support the re-opening of the historic Broadway theaters.

Additionally, multiple American based hotel chains are right now looking for historic buildings - with small rooms, I might add - to convert into hotels rather than build new hotels; this interest is, of course, the exact opposite of what the article is saying is happening.

So how could anyone so misread the situation? How can anyone manage to get every claim in their article so wrong? How could he totally miss the fact that almost any old building of any size or any kind of distinction - no matter how rundown - is being bought by developers and being restored? Well, perhaps the answer in in the last two paragraphs:

As we have a nightcap and I listen to Cheung reflect on his first reactions to the hotel, I flirt with the notion that perhaps the Ritz Huntington got lucky when it was bought by an overseas firm.

That remains to be seen, with its fate in the hands of outsiders. But considering the meteoric ascent of the ugly American and his fetish for the overbuilt, overdone and overaggressive throughout Southern California these days, perhaps it is for the best
Ok. Now it all makes sense.

The fact the Ritz-Huntington is a new building that is only masquerading as an old building, the fact that when the Americans who owned it spent many more millions rebuilding the old hotel when they could have built something larger and splashier for less money, the fact that hundreds of millions of have been collectively put into refurbishing the Biltmore and Figueroa hotels he claims are on a deathwatch, the fact that American developers have bought and restored over a hundred Downtown area historic buildings for offices, stores, restaurants, and loft buildings, and the fact that overdone buildings are far more likely to be done by foreign and foreign born developers than American developers - is all meaningless.

The only thing that matters to the writer is how bad everything American is. Now there are plenty of things one can accurately say to try and make that case. But in this article, every single specific example cited Downtown is... dead wrong.

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