Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Celebrates 100 Years Of Downtown Elegance

A bride under the ceiling frescos at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel.

Millennial Biltmore

Los Angeles is often seen as a new member of the world’s top ten metropolises, a post-war city built between the desert and the ocean. But Los Angeles has a history, and the elegant Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles, opened in 1923, has long played a part of it. The downtown LA landmark is celebrating its anniversary with parties, events, a new logo, and property updates.

Conceived at the start of the Roaring Twenties as Hollywood was hitting its stride, the hotel was built in just 18 months at a cost of $10 million. Those dollars went much further then, as the 11-story, 1600 room hotel took up half a city block and made liberal use of ceiling frescos, cherubs, crystal, marble, tapestries, gold, and cast bronze.

When people say Los Angeles has no history, Linda Dishman, President and CEO, Los Angeles Conservancy, said at the centennial kickoff, “They’re wrong. There are lots of historic buildings.” She says a lot of Los Angeles history started in 1923, with the arrival of the Disney studios, the Hollywood sign, and the Biltmore. In 1923, the city was just coming into its own, driven by oil, (California was the 4th largest oil producer in the US, a trend the current governor is doing his best to reverse), agriculture (especially citrus) and Hollywood.

“The area around 5th and Olive was seen as the culture capital of LA,” said Dishman. With LA trying to be thought of as a major city, the developers of course hired a New York architecture firm to put it all together.

The Beaux Arts hotel is full of cornucopias, cherubs and griffins, gods, and goddesses. It features a beloved room for afternoon tea, the rendezvous court, and a long marble hallway seeming as long as a hockey rink. The pool is classic 1920s, with blue tile and brass rail. The hotel had secret passageways and a speakeasy, and secret passages to take picture of those partaking for blackmail purposes.

A suite at the 100-year-old Hotel Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles.

Millennial Biltmore

And the hotel reportedly has a ghost; Elizabeth Short, the beautiful murder victim known as the Black Dahlia, was last seen in the stylish lobby bar.

The hotel has since been modernized but maintains its polished classic feel. The Biltmore has transformed from its original 1600 guestrooms to 683 larger rooms and suites. They range from rooms of 235 to 335 square feet that can start at under $120 per night to the 4100 sq. ft., two-floor, three-bed, five-bath Presidential Suite. It was the LA ‘home away from home’ for nine US Presidents.

The hotel has 70,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space for events from awards and recognition dinners to weddings and proms.

The “Grande Dame” will be getting improvements during its centennial year, including a complete overhaul of all the windows and fixtures and a restoration of its original majestic fresco ceilings.

As part of the centennial celebrations, the once-main entrance at 507 S. Olive across the street from Pershing Square will finally reopen. The downtown area, which also houses museums, the Angel’s Flight funicular and LA’s grand main library is hopefully improving. At Pershing Square this fall, people are ice skating.

Biltmore announced plans for a year of celebration with a kick-off event in the Gold Room. The original speakeasy tunnel and secret door to Prohibition-era alcohol still exist in the elegant ballroom. The Biltmore, often called “the host of the coast,” launched the hotel’s new logo which brought back its angel emblem.

The new angel logo for the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, revealed in December 2022.

Millennial Biltmore Hotel

When the hotel opened in October of 1923, a grand gala was attended by 3000 people, celebrating the arrival of the largest hotel west of the Mississippi. Guests included the A-listers of the era, from Hollywood (including Theda Bara, Cecil B. DeMille, and Douglas Fairbanks), business, fashion, and culture. The guests braved Prohibition, dining on seven courses while seven orchestras played accompanied by caged canaries.

Since then, the Biltmore has had a run befitting its origins. “Taylor Swift danced on the reception desks, Al Capone made himself comfortable in the Presidential Suite, the Oscars came to life on a napkin, the Beatles had to sneak in by landing on the roof, and Rocky boxed his way to victory in the ballroom ,” boasted a 2021 hotel history.

The hotel hosted the Democratic convention of 1960, when John F. Kennedy was nominated. The Biltmore was also listed in the Green Book as welcoming to the Black traveler.

The Rendevous Court at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The Court is also the site of a … [+] renowned afternoon tea.

Millennial Biltmore

The hotel has a tone of Hollywood history although it is miles from Hollywood. The Motion Picture Academy was founded over a lunch meeting in 1927. The design for the Oscar figure was supposedly sketched on a Biltmore linen napkin. Eight Oscar ceremonies were held at the Biltmore, and films and TV shows from Vertigo, Splash, Beverly Hills Cop, Rocky III, Glee, Mad Men, Chinatown, Ghostbusters, Cruel Intentions, Pretty In Pink (the prom scene was held in the Crystal Ballroom) were shot there.

The annual event of the Los Angeles Press Club is held at the Biltmore. I have accepted several of my Southern California Journalism Awards at the Crystal Ballroom. The Biltmore continues to attract celebrities a century after its birth; at one awards ceremony I met both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Henry Winkler, the ‘long and short’ of it. (Sorry.)

And that’s what Los Angeles is all about. As Alex Decarvalho, General Manager at The Biltmore Los Angeles said, “Over time we have modernized the infrastructure and service amenities, but we never lost sight of the original role and vision of the Biltmore in the Angelino community. History and architecture of this caliber are a rare commodity on the West Coast, and The Biltmore Hotel will continue to serve as a living testimony of all that has made – and continues to make – Los Angeles so uniquely special.”

11th May 1927: Interior view of formally dressed men and women seated at tables during the first … [+] organizational meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the Crystal Ballroom of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Louis B. Mayer, Jack L. Warner and Darryl F. Zanuck attended the banquet. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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