The Ambassador Hotel was a hotel in Los Angeles, California, and location of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub until it was demolished in 2005. The hotel began operation formally on January 1, 1921. It was the site of the Academy Awards six times and the June 1968 assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. The hotel closed to guests in 1989.

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A public auction at the Ambassador Hotel in 2005, just prior to its demolition. Photo by Gary Leonard and courtesy of the Gary Leonard Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.

The Ambassador Hotel was located at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue in what is now known as Koreatown. It was designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt in an eclectic Mediterranean Revival style with Art Deco elements and signage.

Aerial view of the Ambassador Hotel in 1940, courtesy of the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC Libraries
Aerial view of the Ambassador Hotel in 1940, courtesy of the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC Libraries
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Ambassador Hotel Entrance 1960
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 Rozette Rago 
the RFK Community Schools, is a complex of public schools in Los Angeles, California. This was formerly the site of The Ambassador Hotel / Image: wikipedia
Τhe RFK Community Schools in Los Angeles, California. This was formerly the site of The Ambassador Hotel / Image: wikipedia

 

Robert F. Kennedy assassination

In the pantry area of the hotel’s main kitchen, soon after midnight on June 5, 1968, and after a brief victory speech in the Embassy Room ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, the winner of the California Democratic presidential primary election, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was shot along with five other people. Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan was arrested at the scene and later convicted of the murder. Kennedy died one day later from his injuries, while the other victims survived their wounds. During the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel in late 2005 and early 2006, portions of the area where the 1968 shooting occurred were eliminated from the site. The section of Wilshire Boulevard in front of the hotel has been signed the “Robert F. Kennedy Parkway”.

A police officer inspects the Ambassador Hotel kitchen where Kennedy was killed in 1968. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

 

Ambassador Hotel’s Film Roles

The hotel was a popular filming location and backdrop for movies and television programs, starting with Jean Harlow’s 1933 film Bombshell. As business declined and was eventually shuttered, it provided a convenient filming location for hotels and restaurants in The GraduateBeverly Hills, 90210L.A. StoryPretty WomanTrue RomanceThe Wedding Singer and many other films and television shows. A living time capsule of the period, it was a perfect location to represent any 1950s through 1970s period hotels, as in Almost FamousApollo 13Catch Me If You CanHoffa, and That Thing You Do.

The last project to specifically film in the infamous kitchen was “Spin the Bottle”, a 2004 episode of the TV series Angel. The 2006 film Bobby was the last project to physically film on the hotel property, gaining access in late 2005 to film crucial establishing shots even while portions of the hotel were already in the process of being demolished.

Following its closure, the Los Angeles Police Department used the property to train for large scale operations requiring the coordination of many officers. The 2003 film SWAT recreated such training, in scenes shot at the hotel.

The Ambassador itself has been memorialized as a “character” in films. The Cocoanut Grove was recreated for the 2004 movie The Aviator, while the 1999 film The Thirteenth Floor recreates the hotel when the main characters visit 1937 Los Angeles.

The Cocoanut Grove also hosted musician Roy Orbison and several performers in September 1987 for the television special Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, first shown on Cinemax in early 1988. Rock band Linkin Park also held their press photo shoot for their 2003 album Meteora at the hotel. Guns N’ Roses filmed the music video for their song, “Patience”, in the hotel in 1989. R&B singer “Chuckii Booker” filmed the music video for his song “Games” at the hotel in 1992. The hotel also served as the for the music video of the 1997 Marilyn Manson single “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” off of the soundtrack for the Todd McFarlane motion picture Spawn.

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