The nightclub and coffeshop on the Ambassador Hotel site. COURTESY LAUSD
In late December the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) reached a settlement in their longstanding battle over the historic Cocoanut Grove Night Club, a Los Angeles icon that had been a vital component of the now-demolished Myron Hunt-designed Ambassador Hotel since it opened on Wilshire Boulevard in 1921. The result: the Conservancy will allow the LAUSD to demolish the Grove and replace it with a replica using new materials and containing an auditorium and lounge for the Central Los Angeles New Learning Center #1. The 4,000-plus student complex under construction is on the site of the Ambassador Hotel, which was dismantled in 2005. In return the LAUSD will contribute $4 million toward the Historic Schools Investment Fund, which provides grants to help repair and restore historic LAUSD schools.
The cabaret-style, tropical-themed Grove, which was remodeled in the 1970’s, had welcomed performers like Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and had even hosted the Oscars. Along with the Ambassador, it had eventually fallen into disrepair and the LAUSD gained ownership of the buildings in 2001.
Rendering for Gonzalez/Goodale’s high school. COURTESY LAUSD
In 2004 the LAUSD board voted to dismantle the Ambassador in favor of the new complex, designed by Pasadena-based Gonzalez/Goodale Architects, but opted in its final impact report to preserve and reuse the Grove and its adjacent Paul Williams-designed coffee shop. That plan was scrapped earlier this year when the District’s engineers noted that the building lacked “integrity and seismic stability,” said the new school’s project manager John Kuprenes. The LAUSD board then approved an additional environmental impact report on September 25 of last year, with a plan to tear down the Grove and rebuild it in the same dimensions using newer materials.
The Conservancy had organized an injunction on December 7 to stop demolition of the Grove, arguing in an October 25 lawsuit that the LAUSD’s claim that the club was “technically infeasible” to maintain had not been clearly proven. A court date to decide the building’s future had been set for February 25. But in a statement the Conservancy said it decided to give up the fight due in large part to the “increasing realization that true preservation of the site’s remaining resources had become impossible due to what had already been lost.” Much of the Grove had already been damaged by LAUSD construction crews and looked like a shadow of itself sitting alone in the Learning Center’s construction site. The Conservancy will also drop its effort to save the Ambassador Hotel’s pantry—where Robert Kennedy was assassinated—which is now housed in pieces off-site.
The other, perhaps more important, factor was the District’s agreement to donate $4 million to the Historic Schools Investment Fund. That fund, administered by the California Community Foundation, was established in 2005 with $4.9 million in settlement funds from the 2004 lawsuit over the Ambassador Hotel’s demolition.