by Dana Goodyear
The western entrance to the Ambassador Hotel, an H-shaped nineteen-twenties Spanish Revival that occupies a twenty-three-acre parcel on Wilshire Boulevard, is a monumental porte-cochere. Thick columns, banded with green, yellow, and shell-pink tiles, support a crown of flagless flagpoles and a simple rectangular Art Deco clock that is stopped at ten-thirty. Surrounded by dying palms and a few neglected birds-of-paradise, the hotel, at eighty-four, has the look of a governor’s house in an abandoned tropical colony. In some places, the yellow plaster is so worn that you can see the outlines of the clay tiles beneath, like capillaries under fragile skin; in other places the plaster has flaked off altogether. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald used to stay here (they are said to have set fire to their bungalow, and their bill), but now the only residents are fifty feral cats, including Buster, Pinky, and Scabby (a mangy gray with half a tongue), who survive on scraps of catered food left over from movie crews. “The Graduate” was filmed at the hotel; more recently, the six hundred guest rooms, creepy basements, and derelict tunnels have been used as sets for horror movies and “Six Feet Under” episodes. This arrangement, which generates a million dollars a year in location fees, is likely to end soon. The Los Angeles Unified School District owns the building, and has announced that it plans to raze most of it and in its place erect a school for the thirty-eight hundred children, mainly Hispanic and Korean, who are bused out of the neighborhood every day.