When Women Ruled DTLA

By Krystyn Lambert
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Ace DTLA. Los Angeles, California. 2014

It’s Women’s History Month 2019, and I’ve just learned about the Scott Lloyd practice of tracking refugee’s menstrual cycles hasn’t ended and what that may mean for their constitutional reproductive rights potentially still being blocked. It’s Women’s History Month 2019, and Joy Villa has worn an outfit with anti-abortion sentiments to Planned Parenthood’s documentary premiere. It’s Women’s History Month 2019, and new gender pay gap statistics bleakly reveal that women only make 79% as much as men.

However, I don’t mean to paint a solely sour picture. There have been victories and a greater awareness of these material matters than ever before. But when people in high ranking office consistently undermine women, they’re creating a climate where the female gender is still sub-par and needs decisions to be made for them, whether about their bodies or any other relevant issue. What a time to be alive.

In the midst of all of this, I’m invited to tour a couple of DTLA hotels who capitalize on the female influence of their properties. The Ace was my first stop, which has its connection to women via its occupying the old United Artists office building and theater, which was co-founded by starlet, international sensation, and general OG It-Girl Mary Pickford.

While there are a few original remnants leftover from United Artists in the hotel itself, the majority of the impact remains in the theater. It was beautifully preserved in its former glory largely in part to being a church from 1989 to 2014. And in 2014, the Ace took over and redid certain aspects in need of repair, primarily visible through obvious details like carpeting (which artfully recreates patterns from some of the wall paneling), as well as continued to uphold its initial design.

The lobby interior was inspired by Pickford’s visit to Spain while honeymooning there with second husband Douglas Fairbanks. She was taken by the churches’ architecture there, and had it set in her mind to recreate it back home. While I’m more or less unfamiliar with the particulars of Spanish churches, this very much seems like it could be one. An element that especially tickled me was that she had mirrors bronzed so as to show off the miracles of the Los Angeles sun, in effect, in that onlookers (read: visiting New Yorkers skeptical of LA) appear more tan, owing to the tinting. Clever, Mary.

The Theatre at Ace Hotel

Looking up at the ceiling from the balcony in the showroom itself, you can see the crystals Pickford had installed, which shimmer with the stage lights or film projection, depending on the given event. A glamorous touch, indeed. Pickford is depicted subtly and yet ever so angelically on the house right mural, which is the primary way you’d know of her role in the theater’s origins, if you knew what to look for. Regardless, if you’re seeking Old Hollywood, attending a show here is a conclusive choice.

Hotel Figueroa

Feeling high on romance from a fonder time, I ventured to my second hotel, Hotel Figueroa, a few minutes’ drive away. I hadn’t been since it was recently redone, so I was curious to see it, as I was told it maintains more of the integrity of its first form as a YWCA. And to a large extent, aesthetically, it does.

To return to the female facet of this article, the YWCA did wonders for women in the 1920s. It wasn’t deemed safe or often even appropriate for women to travel alone, even for what business they may have had, and thus the organization’s locations provided protected accommodations. In the new Hotel Figueroa, you can see their logo of the upside-down triangle inside a circle engraved in the stonework, and their pool is the YWCA’s original coffin-shape (perhaps to signify killing the patriarchy? We can only speculate).

The art displayed in the Hotel Figueroa has been curated by Tiffany Lendrum, who primarily selected works from LA-based female artists, and the first piece you see when you walk in depicts the hotel’s first manager, Maude Bouldin, on a motorcycle, which was her favorite mode of transport. When she was hired, she piloted a plane herself from the East Coast to arrive at her new job.

All of this bodes well for the Hotel Figueroa: honoring Bouldin boldly in red paint, having predominantly female artists exhibited, maintaining a coffin-shaped pool… However, I have to ask, where is the money going now? To more women, as it did when it was the YWCA?

And with the Ace upholding Pickford’s church… How much of her legacy is truly preserved? Pickford demanded more than double of what the film studios offered her, got it, and rose to found The Mary Pickford Company (in addition to UA) where she hired female screen writers. How many women significantly profit from the hotel now?

I understand that to some extent, many women do win with these hotels, and I don’t mean to undermine their determination to, if anything, honor Woman’s History Month. But both hotels are owned by men, and I can only hope one day we, as a society, are able to foster the growth of women in power as trailblazers Pickford and those at the YWCA would have wanted.

[Correction: Kelly Sawdon is a partner and Chief Brand Officer of the Ace Hotel Group.]

 

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