When I first got to L.A., I used to walk up and down the corridors of the Millennium Biltmore to soak up the atmosphere and glamour of Hollywood,” RKO Pictures chairman, Broadway producer and former actor Ted Hartley said in an interview for this book. Hartley is married to actress Dina Merrill.
The early owners of the Millennium Biltmore brought an unfailing devotion to the art of hotel keeping as well as an unparalleled elegance to a competitive, highly profitable business. Not only did the Millennium Biltmore become the grandest of them all on the West Coast, but significantly influenced the building of other L.A. grand hotels. It set the standard, even to this day, by which other hotels were built and judged, much the same as the original Waldorf Astoria did in 1893.
In a larger sense, Los Angeles can be divided into two eras, before and after the Millennium Biltmore. Before, it was much like New York, that is, New York before the advent of the Waldorf Astoria’s opening in 1893. All of a sudden, London or Paris didn’t tower figuratively over New York’s hotel life. So, too, with the Millennium Biltmore. The Millennium Biltmore opened in 1923 to national acclaim as the largest hotel west of Chicago and, by 1969, was designated a Historic Cultural Landmark by the City of Los Angeles.
Originally, the idea for the hotel arose out of a desire to create a grand icon to show the rest of the country that Los Angeles had “arrived.” By 1920, filmmaking was Los Angeles’s biggest industry and the perfect climate its biggest attraction. But the city had no landmark hotel until a prominent banker named Joseph Sartori called a meeting of forty of the city’s business leaders to suggest building one. The group persuaded hotelier John McEntee Bowman to finance the project and named it “The Biltmore” after other hotels in the country he had developed. Today, “Biltmore” hotels are unrelated except in name.
In just 47 days, New York architectural firm Schultze & Weaver came up with the $10 million design. A Beaux Arts composition, with Spanish-Italian Renaissance detail, was meant as a throwback to the Castilian heritage of the city. And the angel theme throughout the hotel is a symbol of the city as well as the hotel itself.
“Schultze & Weaver (who went on to design The Breakers in Palm Beach and the Waldorf Astoria in New York) were not only design makers of the century, they are representative of the triumph of the Industrial Revolution,” Joseph Caponnetto, who became director of the Schultze & Weaver/Lloyd Morgan Architectural Archive, told me for my book The Waldorf Astoria: America’s Gilded Dream. The Millennium Biltmore gave guests the feeling that they experienced some of Italy’s grandest designs in Southern California, just as The Breakers and Waldorf Astoria helped transport their guests to worlds far afield from the beautiful but boring beaches of Florida and the jangling hustle and bustle of New York City.
The Biltmore in Los Angeles was completed in just 18 months and opened October 1, 1923 to a weeklong celebration featuring a gala attended by Cecil B. DeMille, Jack Warner and Mary Pickford with seven orchestras in eight dining rooms. The brand new grand hotel boasted 916 guestrooms and 826 bathrooms on 11 floors. In 1924, 500 more rooms were added. An instant triumph, the hotel’s flawless service standards and luxurious appointments made it the premier West Coast destination. The 1700-seat Biltmore Theatre was constructed in 1924, on the corner of Grand Avenue, attached to the hotel—it ran sold-out plays continuously until it was closed in the mid-1960s, when the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Music Center opened nearby. Lucille Ball, Mae West, and the world-famous acting couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne graced the stage of the Biltmore Theatre, along with many others. More movies have been filmed at the Millennium Biltmore than at any other hotel in America.
Bio from back cover
Ward Morehouse III’s love affair with grand hotels began long before he wrote his first landmark book, The Waldorf~Astoria: America’s Gilded Dream, which was followed by Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel. His father, the late drama critic Ward Morehouse, lovingly introduced his son to the glamorous life of luxurious hotels. He is a former staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, Broadway columnist for the New York Post and author of nine other books and two plays, The Actors and If It Was Easy, produced Off-Broadway.
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