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L.A.’s first ‘fab four’ reborn – The new Ace Hotel Los Angeles

The freshly restored Walker & Eisen United Artists building -- reborn as the Ace Hotel Los Angeles
Ace Hotel

Long before the art collectives of the contemporary avant-garde art world, four L.A. film artists joined forces to make a new kind of art collective and studio, independent of the film art power structure of their time. Okay, so one of them already had his own studio and they took over another lot of them, and eventually formed a corporation just like the squares; which they realized needed a stronger, uh … distribution system (no – not galleries), which required a separate partnership….

Okay, so it got to be a bit of a mess; and they brought in characters like Joseph Schenck, who had a role in building several other empires besides their own; and well … any number of other film artists – producers, directors, writers, actors, and, uh, lawyers … floated in and out, until … well until it got to be quite an operation.

Yes – I did say empire. A few of these players (Remember? That’s what they called Paramount once upon a time.) got pretty bloody rich. You may remember that one of them up and left that big studio that eventually became A&M Records, and later the House that Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy built; and moved to a chateau in Switzerland, and lived happily ever after. (J. Edgar Hoover might have had a little something to do with that, too.) That would be Charlie Chaplin.

Well, it was quite a thing, and as Joan Didion might have put it, they “had some fun”; but it was getting to be a lot less ‘fun’ because they started losing some big money, not to mention missing out on some big ‘fun.’ Until two super-smart New York, uh, lawyers (well they loved the art form, too) had a super-smart business and production plan…. And well, as Andy Warhol once put it, “good business is the best art.”

And until it all blew apart (ahhh… and you thought only empire builders could also be empire destroyers), United Artists facilitated the making of pictures that helped defined the culture of the American Empire in the second half of the 20th century.

Long before the studio had become a studio-without-a-studio, it had dropped its distribution arm, including its chain of theatres. But the company name continued to grace a number of its old movie house marquees. And why not? The original ‘united artists’ were as serious about their first movie theatre as they were about the studio lot that later became Warner Hollywood. They built their flagship in what was then L.A.’s (if not the world’s) grandest theatre districts, on Broadway in downtown L.A.

The blocks between Broadway and Spring Street and 3rd and 10th Streets are famously replete with some of the most beautiful Beaux-Arts and Art Deco architecture in the country. The artist-entrepreneurs determined to put a unique stamp on their movie palace and on the Broadway skyline – and they did, with a façade that melded the proto-Deco lines of a Moorish inflected Spanish Gothic into the evolving Streamline Moderne lines of the building itself, crowned with a central mullioned and pinnacled Gothic tower. Inside, the vaulted, frescoed lobby gave way to a theatre interior that practically defied movie fantasy architecture – Spanish rayonnant Gothic wedded to the stucco and plaster fantasy encrusted Rococo detail of that species of Spanish Baroque we know as Churrigueresque, heightened by mirrors and crystal fixtures that scattered light about the tracery. (The theatre’s architect was C. Howard Crane; the 14-storey office tower was by Walker & Eisen, an architectural partnership responsible for a number of other L.A. area movie theatres and landmarks as well as the Fine Arts and Oviatt buildings only a few blocks away.)

Well, as the song goes (from the United Artists film – from Ian Fleming’s novel), you only live twice.’ And the United Artists Theatre and tower have been reborn – as the Ace Hotel – L.A.’s branch of the small Portland-based chain that (unless we’ve visited that cozy redoubt of Manhattan hospitality – also on Broadway – parked between midtown, Chelsea and the garment district) we’re more familiar with as the proprietors of Rudy’s Barbershop. Well, the hotel is just as relaxed and unobtrusively hip – though it may be hard to imagine a space as architecturally spectacular as this being unobtrusive in any way. The hotel opened Monday; although there was a bit of a preview a couple of weeks ago by way of an after-party for the opening of Acne Studios downtown flagship. The Theatre at Ace is set to open February 14th – Valentine’s Day – with a performance by those spaciest of Brit rockers, Spiritualized. (Do you remember Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space? I’m still trying to figure out what part I actually remember, and which part is just a spontaneous acid flashback.)

So why the big build-up and why that bit of film history? (Okay so blame my DNA.) Because L.A. fashion wants more – I want more – more of this kind of synergy; more venues in which to convoke creative spirits to keep the sparks alive and moving; more places to showcase local (and visiting) talent and products. Can you imagine how fabulous the theatre might be as a runway/fashion/event venue? The hotel management might want to compare notes with their (unrelated) art world ‘cousins’ at Ace Gallery – who have lent out their cavernous Miracle Mile galleries for a number of fashion events – especially during L.A.’s own Fashion Week. Speaking of which – have the L.A. Fashion Week people taken note of the potential here? Alex Calderwood is sadly no longer with us. But I’m sure he would have been aware of and open to the possibilities here.

Okay – yeah yeah yeah – I’m looking at the men’s shows. (See, especially, McQueen, Alexander.) Goddess only knows I like a guy in a skirt. But gee – just as I was putting some distance between me and the black, the black-and-white, the rectilinear, etc. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the coats. The looks seemed pitched somewhere between The Matrix, Bladerunner and, maybe, hmm… Stephen Tennant (seriously). Comprende? (In other words – something really not too different from what I look like on any given evening.) Hair was great. Platforms?? – not feeling it. I mean if you want to know what I looked like in my school days, have a look. But … well, we’ll be talking.

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