Los Angeles has always been a city of strivers and social climbers. In the 1920s, this proclivity for luxury and respectability manifested in an unprecedented construction boom.
The boom transformed the city from a Wild West outpost of small Victorians and adobes into a concrete and steel metropolis rivaling the great cities of the East Coast. On North Rossmore Avenue, in sophisticated Hancock Park, several “New York style” high-rise apartments were built near the new Wilshire Country Club to house the city’s self-proclaimed aristocracy.
The grandest of these was the El Royale, completed in the heady days before the stock market crash of 1929 brought LA back to earth. The El Royale not only survived the crash, but remained home to the elite and powerful for decades. And unlike most places built with pretensions of grandeur, the El Royale has retained its glamour to this day.
In August 1929, the Barco Investment Company announced in the Los Angeles Times that construction of a 12-story, Class A apartment house had begun at the southeast corner of Rossmore and Rosewood Avenues. The company hired William Douglas Lee, the iconic architect of the Chateau Marmont and many other LA buildings, including what is now the Downtown Women’s Center (one of the many structures designed during a long partnership with developer Florence Casler).
Even before it was built, the management promised to select tenants “with the utmost care.” In the style of exclusive apartments in New York City, the $1.25 million building would be given no name, and would be “known only as 450 North Rossmore.” It would feature panoramic views of the city, and include every modern convenience and luxury detail available. It would be:
…an unfurnished apartment house luxuriously designed to become a castle of home for the most discriminating tenants…. There will be 272 rooms divided into suites of three to ten rooms…all richly decorated and surrounded by a beautiful roof garden. All the apartments will have colored tile floors, reception halls leading to living rooms with richly hand-decorated oil painted walls, artistic fire places, large attractive dining rooms, super-sized, light, airy bedrooms with more than ample closet space, mirrored dressing rooms, wall safes, tile baths with glass door enclosed showers, tiled kitchens with special ventilating systems to remove all cooking odors, electrical refrigeration and special incinerator systems.
When the white concrete building opened in 1929, it boasted the fanciful Spanish/French Rococo/Renaissance architecture evident in many of Douglas's buildings and, perhaps acquiescing to gaudier California impulses, had acquired a pretentious name—The El Royale—displayed in a pistachio green neon sign on the rooftop. The building, with its parquet and marble floors, cornice moldings and heavy chandeliers, was described as “a decorous setting of inimitable beauty.”
A brochure announcing the El Royale's opening even made a ride in the elevator sound smart and chic:
…the elevator lobby is an artistic masterpiece in wood and stone. The elevator cabs will be of hand carved wood and exquisite design. Traveling at a rate of 500 feet per minute, the annoying wait will be eliminated.The El Royale quickly filled to capacity and became a hub of the LA social set. By September 1929, tennis meets and contests on the putting green were already being held on the grounds. A playground, including "the latest in swings and other devices," was installed for the children of tenants. On the ground floor there were social rooms—including a library, tea room, and reception room—used by tenants and local civic and social clubs.
The El Royale was bought and sold many times over the next three decades, but it retained its glamorous reputation throughout Hollywood’s “golden age.”
It became the go-to home-away-from-home for blue blood East Coasters “wintering” in California. Actors including Clark Gable, Loretta Young (with whom Gable had a secret child), Harry Langdon, and Helen Morgan, and writer William Faulkner all called the El Royale home.
Though it is said that Mae West’s application was denied due to her loose character (she ended up at the nearby Ravenswood instead), this legend should probably be taken with a grain of salt. One of the most popular tenants during the 1930s was the notorious actor and Mob associate George Raft, who lived in one of the penthouses and even threw a birthday party for a friend’s child in the reception room.
In the 1950s, the building was bought by the Scott family. It would stay in their hands for more than 50 years, bringing a much needed stability and warmth. Matriarch Martha Scott ran the El Royale as if its tenants were extended family, fostering a tight-knit community within the ornate halls. During the ’60s and ’70s, many wealthy elderly people moved into the El Royale, downsizing from nearby mansions.
The building became hip and vibrant again in the 1980s, when talent agent Kevin Huvane moved in and fostered what many called “the reign of Huvane,” bringing with him many famous friends. Local legend Huell Howser lived at the El Royale from the 1980s until his death. He loved the building, especially in winter, when the sky was clear and the ocean could be spotted from the upper floors, and the whole city took on a “medieval apricot glow.”
Stars like Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow, Uma Thurman, Jack Black, Ellen Page, and Josh Brolin have lived at the El Royale. It was said that Katie Holmes, during her courtship with Tom Cruise, would give Scientology tracts to the doorman to hand out to other tenants. Recently, it was reported that Melanie Griffith was touring the building for her daughter, Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson.
Martha Scott died in 2009. In 2012, her children sold the building to Kamran Hakim and Farhad Eshaghpour for $29.5 million dollars. Fittingly, Hakim is one of the biggest landlords in New York City, the city whose glamour and style the El Royale aspired to from its inception. It seems to have passed its self-imposed test.