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The Millennium Biltmore delivers LA movie magic

Alfred Hitchcock included this back staircase from the Los Angeles Biltmore hotel in the movie 'Vertigo'
Alfred Hitchcock included this back staircase from the Los Angeles Biltmore hotel in the movie 'Vertigo'
flickr's kahunna

Movie lovers visiting the Los Angeles area may want to make time on their itineraries to tour the Millennium Biltmore, one of the city’s famous hotels. Although they do a good business serving travelers and wedding parties, the hotel is so much more than a conglomeration of accommodations, restaurants and meeting/event spaces. It’s an honest-to-goodness, LA cultural-historical icon and truly “a downtown LA attraction” worth experiencing, especially for film buffs.

That’s because The Biltmore also has “another life” and is a popular filming location, having appeared in 100s of movies and television shows over the years. You’re almost guaranteed to have seen it at one time or another in some movie – maybe ‘Ghostbusters’ or ‘Bridesmaids’ – and odds are you’ll see it again on the silver screen in the future.

You’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for the hotel’s stunning Crystal Ballroom in a whole host of beloved films. It shows up in the ‘Pretty in Pink’ prom scene, again in ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ when Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) sings atop a piano, and then close your eyes and it’s a ‘Rocky III’ fight arena. Now that’s a range even Meryl Streep might envy!

And, while the San Francisco Fairmont – across the street from The Brocklebank Apartments, a real-life building which “Madeleine” in ‘Vertigo’ called home – is probably the hotel most people associate with that particular Alfred Hitchcock production, the famed director filmed at the Biltmore, too, using the property’s 11-story, ornately-railed back stairway to evoke a disturbing ‘Vertigo’ effect.

In the early days of Hollywood’s golden era, the Los Angeles Biltmore served as a host-venue for the Academy Awards ceremony eight times between 1931 and 1942, which was staged in its lavish underground Biltmore Bowl facility. The property’s connection to the Academy began before that, however, as the Crystal Ballroom (yes, the same one you’ve seen in the movies listed above) hosted a May 1927 banquet to celebrate the Academy’s founding. This was the event where MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons reportedly sketched – on a cloth napkin, no less – his vision for the Academy’s “Oscar” trophy.

Fittingly, too, Bob Hope served as master of ceremonies for the Academy’s 50th anniversary celebration here in 1977, again held in the Crystal Ballroom, again beneath those enormous Austrian chandeliers (they’re 12-feet in diameter) and the soaring 30-foot ceilings graced by Italian artist Giovanni Smeraldi’s (of White House and Vatican renown) incredible hand-painted frescoes. It’s a museum-quality event venue, to be sure.

The Millennium Biltmore, located at 506 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, provides an informative self-guided tour (pdf) and a list of movies that filmed there (pdf) on its website, but the Los Angeles Conservancy also offers an excellent tour of the hotel and of its surrounding area. Beginning in Pershing Square (which is easily accessible via the downtown public transit system but also has ample parking available on Sundays, as well, for people who want to drive to the tour) and priced at $10 at the time of this writing, the Conservancy’s Millennium Biltmore tour hits all the high notes: convenient, bargain-priced and jam-packed with juicy details. Click here for more information about the LA Conservancy Millennium Biltmore tour.

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