- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Ambassador Hotel lured politicians, Hollywood stars and famous writers. Then Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, on the verge of his biggest political victory, was assassinated in a kitchen hallway, an event that began a steady decline in one of the nation’s cultural treasures.

Today, the Ambassador’s only residents are feral cats that scamper around its browning lawn. The Los Angeles Unified School District, which owns the 24-acre property, could decide by year’s end whether to demolish all or part of the hotel to build neighborhood schools.

But while the district says the cheapest option is to raze the 82-year-old Ambassador, the Los Angeles Conservancy disputes the district’s numbers and instead favors renovating as much of the historic hotel as possible.

If the district decides to demolish the entire hotel, the conservancy says it will consider suing.

“We’ve only resorted to that a handful of times in our 25-year history, but this is one of those very significant resources that would be tragic to lose,” said Ken Bernstein, the conservancy’s director of preservation issues.

“Imagine reading ‘The Great Gatsby’ in the room where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed, studying political history in the room where [Richard] Nixon wrote the Checkers speech, or being able to perform in an auditorium that is the Cocoanut Grove nightclub,” he said.

The hotel was designed by Rose Bowl architect Myron Hunt.

Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra performed at the Cocoanut Grove, and six Academy Awards ceremonies were held at the hotel.

Then, in 1968, Sirhan Sirhan, lurking in a kitchen hallway, fatally shot Kennedy moments after he declared victory in the California presidential primary.

In 1989, the hotel closed.

At one point in the 1990s, New York developer Donald Trump wanted to build the world’s tallest building on the site, but that project faded. The school district bought the property for $76.5 million in 2001.

The Ambassador’s majestic facade remains visible behind a chain-link fence, but cracks run along its exterior walls and ballroom ceilings have gaping holes from water damage.

Next month, school district officials will make a recommendation to the superintendent on the hotel’s fate. The school board likely will take up the matter in November. Construction, if there are no legal challenges, could begin in spring 2005.

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