15 years ago Alex Calderwood and friends created the first Ace Hotel in Seattle. It was in a converted Salvation Army building and was intended as an affordable hotel that would appeal to the “creative class” — rooted in its locale, mixing it up with local artistic talent and businesses. Since then the idiosyncratic concept has become a chain, with outposts in New York and Palm Springs and, springing up in the last few months, London, Panama and now, Los Angeles.
The hotel, designed by Commune in collaboration with Atelier Ace, in-house designers, held a soft opening this week, with guests arriving while artists — including the Haas Brothers, Alma Allen, Michael Schmidt, Tanya Aguiniga, Kevin Willis, Michael Boyd and Adam Silverman — worked to complete their pieces.
This Ace, says Commune‘s Roman Alonso, continues a tradition of mixing present and past in a way that’s intended to exude a sense of having been around forever while feeling totally contemporary and never “precious.”
And its “past” is heavyweight: Ace Los Angeles occupies the 13-story theater and office building on South Broadway in downtown that was originally created in the 1920s by Mary Pickford and her breakaway friends for United Artists (and went on to become the offices for Reverend Gene Scott – hence the Jesus Saves sign that the company has kept, above.)
Mallery Roberts Morgan, who has the unusual life experience of having grown up as a “hotel brat,” went to see the hotel and spoke with the designers, artists and clients about how the company maintains the singularity and local flavor of each hotel now that it’s a brand.
She also inquires about how the company been affected by the passing of Ace founder Alex Calderwood, who was found dead last November in his London hotel. Listen to the story, here, featuring Roman Alonso, Michael Schmidt, Nikolai Haas, Brad Wilson, Kelly Sawdon and Ryan Bukstein. And read Mallery’s description of the new hotel, below.
Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles
Hotels happen to be a subject I know something about. I was born and raised in hotels. My father was a hotelier and we weren’t unlike a military family moving from one posting to the next. However the generation of hotel owners and managers like my father – who focused on the experience – great dining, awesome interior design, the guest is king – were replaced with accountants in the 1980s when corporations gobbled up hotels and turned them into homogenized chains.
Today, those big hotel corporations have their eye on innovative hotel companies like Ace. Marriott is the latest to try and acquire the boutique hotel fairy dust (see Brooks Barnes on Marriott, David Brooks on boutique hotels). They want to get in on the magic that attracts the hip, creative clientele and all the good stuff that buzzes around it, including, of course, the revenues.
So I’ve been intrigued by the Ace approach to the creation of hotels. Just like my father’s – it’s all about the experience. And now its much-anticipated Ace Downtown Los Angeles has opened its doors to its very first guests. As a design journalist I’ve watched the development of this project over the past few years with special interest.
Firstly, it’s Ace. The Ace hotel group is known for attracting a young, creative clientele. They have a magic touch for conjuring environments hipsters feel good in (although the owners are careful to point out that their target audience is not hipster youth per se, but “curious” people of any age). So, where they choose to open and how they design a location is always of interest.
For their first hotel in Los Angeles (after Seattle, Portland, New York, Palm Springs, London and Panama City) they chose a historic building downtown in the heart of the old theater district. As retailer Darren Gold, who had a downtown pop-up this summer, said, “the Ace has become the holy grail of the revitalization of downtown” (meanwhile GQ has declared LA’s downtown the next great American city.)
Indeed, since Ace announced their plans to open, it appears to have had the effect of a green light for other equally hip brands such as the Swedish fashion group Acne Studios, Urban Outfitters, who renovated the historic Rialto Theater for their store, and cosmetic brand Aesop as well as French fashion label APC, both slated for nearby openings soon.
The Ace is located in the United Artists building on Broadway & 9th, built in 1927 by Mary Pickford for the pioneering independent film studio she cofounded. The televangelist Dr. Gene Scott took over the building in 1989 and installed a Jesus Saves sign to the exterior. Ace acquired the Spanish gothic-inspired property and its adjoining theatre from Scott. The Jesus Saves sign lives on.
In addition to the 180 guest rooms, ground floor cafe-restaurant with outdoor sidewalk seating, first floor bar, outdoor terrace and pool (more dipping than swimming), there’s a spectacularly elaborate 1,600 seat theatre where Ace plans to host a program of concerts, movie premières and special events. To christen the new space, the experimental British group Spiritualized will convene a full orchestra, choir and band to re-create its landmark 1997 album “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” on February 14th. Just in case you didn’t know, that’s about as hip as you can possibly get.
Ace enlisted Commune to helm the interior design. Commune is the Los Angeles-based design collective of four partners known for their eclectic style that puts a new spin on California modern. Commune also designed the Ace’s Palm Springs location to much acclaim.
“We wanted it to feel like it had always been here,” explains Roman Alonso, one of the four Commune partners, describing their design approach for the Los Angeles property. “But that’s the trick’” he adds, “how to do something that feels like it’s been here forever without being precious about it. So, the style is something you can’t really put your finger on, you can’t recognize time periods or design periods.”
The stain-glass panels, green leather banquettes and brass-topped tables of the ground floor café-restaurant reflect just that – a slightly historical feel blended with a contemporary looseness. “We look at a lot of different styles and blend them together’” says Alonso. “Not because it looks right but because it feels right. We feel our way into the design.”
Everything in the hotel from furniture, lighting, tile designs, doors to door handles is custom made or vintage. The guest rooms, with their minimal furnishings, concrete floors and exposed concrete ceilings hint at a brutalist design aesthetic. “Every detail has been given thought, there’s nothing accidental, but it’s meant to have a certain level of informality and casualness,” says Alonso.
“We welcome the imperfections – even the imperfections are planned.”
Commune asked several Los Angeles craftsmen, artisans and artists to create site-specific pieces. “For Ace its always important to localize the project and bring in the local community,” says Alonso.
The Haas Brothers have created ‘hieroglyphics or cave paintings or some kind of left behind history of Los Angeles’, says Alonso of the pencil drawings on the plaster walls of the ground floor restaurant. Artist Alma Allen sculpted furniture pieces from great chunks of wood for the upstairs outdoor terrace.
Wardrobe, jewelry and interior designer Michael Schmidt (above left) has created a chandelier for the pool area lounge composed of reclaimed shipyard and logging chains and incorporating vintage lamps found in the theatre. Textile artist Tanya Aquiniga (above right on ladder) created two installations; a large wall hanging composed of different textile techniques in the upstairs bar and a wool felted wall in the reception area. Sculpture and ceramicist Kevin Willis, designer Michael Boyd and ceramic artist Adam Silverman also collaborated. For anyone interested in the contemporary design scene ‘Made in LA’, the Ace will be a worthwhile destination.
Ace Hotel is at 929 South Broadway in downtown, and is now open to guests. An official opening takes place on January 15th.