Sunday, May 20, 2012

Crystal Ballroom, Biltmore Hotel, 515 South Olive Street, Los Angeles, CA


When the eleven-story Biltmore Hotel opened on October 2, 1923,  it was the largest hotel west of the Mississippi.
The Biltmore was designed in the Beaux Arts style with some Italian and Spanish Renaissance by the architectural firm Schultze and Weaver.
The hotel opened with 1,500 guest rooms over 11 floors and was decorated with frescoes, marble fountains, columns and crystal chandeliers. Italian Giovanni Smeraldi led a team of artists who hand painted the Greek myth-inspired frescoes that cover the ceiling of the Crystal Ballroom. It took them seven months to complete the job. (Adam Dawson)

As an homage to the Castilian heritage of Los Angeles, the "Biltmore Angel" is heavily incorporated into the design—as a symbol of the city as well as the Biltmore itself. With a thick steel and concrete frame, the structure takes up half a city block and rises over 11 stories.

The interiors of the Biltmore Hotel are decorated with: frescos and murals; carved marble fountains and columns; massive wood-beamed ceilings; travertine and oak paneled walls; lead crystal chandeliers; caste bronze stairwells and doorways; fine artisan marquetry and mill work; and heavily embroidered imported tapestries and draperies.

Most notable are the frescoed mural ceilings in the main Galleria and the Crystal Ballroom, which were hand painted in 1922 by Italian artist Giovanni Smeraldi, known for his work in the Vatican and the White House. Smeraldi and his team famously painted the ballroom's colorful, seamless fresco over a period of seven months, decorating it with figures of Greek and Roman gods, angels, cupids and other mythological creatures. It was meticulously restored in the 1980s by Smeraldi's apprentice, Anthony Heinsbergen. The imported Austrian crystal chandeliers that adorn it are 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter.
Crytal Ballroom ceiling decorated by John Smeraldi.

The Rendezvous Court, once the hotel's lobby but now used primarily for afternoon tea, is decorated with a Moorish Revival styled plaster ceiling painted with 24 Carat Gold accents, two original imported Italian chandeliers from 1923, and a grand Spanish Baroque Revival bronze doorway, whose astrological clock still keeps time today. Two figures appear on the stairwell front—on the left is the Roman goddess of agriculture Ceres, while on the right is the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa. The current lobby at the hotel's Grand Avenue entrance still has its original travertine walls and oak paneling as well as the large artificial skylighted ceiling, reflected in the custom carpet below.
Each ballroom on the Galleria level is themed either after the rooms’ original function or the hotel's overall California-heritage premise.

The Emerald Room was once the hotel's main guest dining room; its decor features images of hunt and harvest, with hand-painted animals and fish on the cast-plaster ceiling beams.

The Tiffany Room was formerly an open corridor used as a drop-off point for Crystal Ballroom functions. Now enclosed, the elegant space centers around exploration, with relief sculptures and panels depicting Queen Isabella I of Castile, and Christopher Columbus and other Spanish New World explorers.

The split-level Gold Room, once a dining room for elite guests, features Prohibition-era hidden liquor compartments and panels along the ceiling for press photographers to take pictures of the event below. It is decorated with a gold cast-plaster ceiling, hand-oiled wood paneling, and nine mirrored windows along three sides.

The South Galleria is painted with floral friezes inspired by the decor of ancient Roman Pompeii, and features a vaulted ceiling, marble balustrades and heavy Roman piers. Gold-painted wrought iron gates, made famous in Alfred Hitchcock's 1950s film Vertigo, open to a staircase leading down to the Biltmore Bowl.
Also of interest is the hotel's health club and indoor pool, which was modeled after the decks of 1920s luxury cruise-ships such as the Queen Mary. Solid brass trim on windows, doors and railings, teakwood deck chairs and hand-laid Italian mosaic tile on the walls and in the pool are original. All designs are of a nautical theme.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in the hotel's Crystal Ballroom on May 11, 1927, when guests such as Louis B. Mayer met to discuss plans for the new organization and presenting achievement awards to colleagues in their industry.
Legend has it that MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, who was in attendance, immediately grabbed a linen Biltmore napkin and sketched the design for the Oscar statue on it. Cedric Gibbons won the Oscar 11 times, nominated 37 times.

Eight Oscar ceremonies were held in the Biltmore Bowl during the Academy's early years of 1931, 1935–39, and 1941-42.
Vivian Leigh, 1939

In 1929, Germany's Graf Zeppelin airship soared over the hotel on its round-the-world voyage, sponsored by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Crew and passengers were fed by Biltmore culinary staff, who also replenished their on-board supplies.

In 1952 famous Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda died at the Biltmore. During a banquet given for the Indian ambassador to America, Yogananda was reading a poem when he suffered a heart attack. Since then the hotel has become a holy site for his followers who believe it to be the place where his soul left his body.(Adam Dawson)

John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 at the hotel. He also used its Music Room as his campaign headquarters.
Four years later, in 1964, The Beatles made a trip to visit the Presidential Suite during their first U.S. tour. Huge numbers of fans on the sidewalks forced them to get in through an unusual way: The band's helicopter had to land on the hotel roof.(Adam Dawson)

Read more: History of the Biltmore in Los Angeles |

 In 1977 Bob Hope hosted the Academy's 50th Anniversary banquet in the same room. Movie industry guests assembled there to discuss the possibility of organizing a new awards ceremony which was to become known as the Academy Awards, or the Oscars. 

Upon purchase by Millenium Hotels and Resorts in 2000, the L.A. landmark became the Millenium Biltmore Hotel.

Jerry performed here on
8/2/89 Benefit for the National Hispanic Arts, Education & Media Institute. Carlos Santana, Reuben Blades, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Linda Ronstadt also performed.

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