Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel
Updated: May 9
1714 Ivar Avenue, Los Angeles, California
1946 photograph of the Hollywood Knickerbocker
1938 photo of the Hollywood Knickerbocker
Designed in 1923 by architect E.M. Frasier in the Spanish Colonial style but didn't break ground until 1925. Originally the building was intended to be luxury apartments called the Security Apartments but financial problems delayed the project pushing the opening further along. On August 3, 1924, Los Angeles Times featured a photo of the construction, stating that the property would include 172 apartments consisting of 81 singles, 55 doubles, and 36 triples. Structural purchases like elevators weren’t ordered until June 1925. William Simpson Construction Co. now served as contractor. The building featured red brick and white art stone on the exterior, and the interior would include hardwood and white enamel finishings.
On October 13th, 1925, the original permit for the sale of securities was revoked by the State Corporation Department on the grounds that there were irregularities in complying with some of the restrictions of the permit. The Holliver Holding Co. had applied to take over the project at this point.
Though no one ever lived in the Security Apartments, the project was listed in the city directory from 1926 to 1928. Legal proceedings took a few years and on February 19th, 1927, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Frank F. Collier ruled that a bond lien took priority over a mechanics lien (needing payment for services in construction).
It took multiple construction companies to complete the project. The first 7 floors were completed by the original construction company hired with half of the bonds employed in construction. Then work stopped for months until another group took over for completion. Money issues once again repeated when this new group tried to refinance it after the original bond ran out. Banks refused to issue money claiming default on the principal and interest of the original bond issue.
A brand new group secured a deposit of $887,000 of the bonds and proceeded to foreclose to take over, but the second group that had finished the structure filed suit. The judge arranged for the property to be sold in hopes to receive enough money to cover the mechanic's lien and provide equity to those who completed the structure.
On November 29, 1928, Frank R. Strong, Walter R. Wheat, Elwood Riggs, and a few others purchased the lot and the structure. The purchase and remodeling costs were expected to reach over $2.6 million. The new owners spent $200,000 to quickly remodel the structure, and another $250,000 was spent with Barker Brothers to furnish the building. They would then operate under the name Knickerbocker Apartment Hotel, hoping to receive a certificate of occupancy on March 1, 1929, to become “one of the finest apartment hotels in the west.” The slogan for the hotel was
“ Your Home for a Year or a Day.”
What started in 1924 as 172 units quickly reached 444 rooms by 1929. At the time in Los Angeles, this was the largest project. The building was constantly being remodeled or updated or finished to some degree. In January of 1930 permits were pulled to connect the two buildings by constructing a new section between the two wings, with a wall at the rear to form a new lobby. This new section would feature two bachelor apartments on each floor and allow passage from one building to the other.
By April the building had new owners under the name Knickerbocker Inc. More permits were pulled to convert the basement into a 115 vehicle garage, remove partitions and install plumbing for a new kitchen in the south wing as well as new canopies on the exterior.
By the summer of 1929, Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel was open and served as Hollywood's new “hot spot” to hold meetings, conduct screen tests, and host and be invited to the most exclusive parties that the rich and notable were synonymous with. Hollywood executives often had offices within the structure. The lobby also housed a flower shop, beauty salon, and the legendary Lido Room.
In 1931 a new rooftop sign was constructed and it is the same one still there today. That light illuminated like a beacon to all the creatives that made early Hollywood.
Before I get into all the notable celebrities that visited or lived at the Knickerbocker let me start by saying that I read a few articles about Valentino" riding his horse to the Knickerbocker and dancing the tango in the Lido Room. But where he tied his horse is still a mystery." ... okay, it's a mystery because it didn't happen. Valentino died in 1926, the hotel didn't officially open until 1929 when it was fully completed. ...3 years after Rudolph Valentino's death.
If your child is an actor then you are familiar with opening up a Coogan account. This started because of the first known child millionaire Jackie Coogan, who in 1921 at 7 years old became the world's first child superstar. By the time Coogan was 21, he thought his earnings were intact until he learned his mother and stepfather had spent a majority of his earnings. He had to sue his parents for the remainder of what was left. This court battle brought a lot of attention to child performers and provoked the State of California to enact The California Childs Actor Bill in 1939. The new “Coogan Law” defines a minor's earnings as their sole and separate property and requires employers to preserve 15% of gross compensation in a trust until the age of 18.
Jackie Coogan was in many Charlie Chaplin films and continued acting well into adulthood. His most notable role being Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. Jackie was married for a few short years to America's favorite pin-up, platinum blonde, blue-eyed Hollywood starlet, Betty Grable who’s smile and legs were insured for a million dollars with Lloyds of London. A few years Before their marriage in 1937, Betty threw Jackie a huge 200+ person 21st birthday party at the Knickerbocker and continued to use the hotel as her party venue for costume parties and evenings at the Jazz club.
Also in 1936, on Halloween night during the 10th anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death,
his wife Bess held her last seance to try and make contact with her husband. In life, Harry told Bess that if he were to die before her then he would try to make contact with her. She held onto his words for a decade and on Halloween 1936, the last time she would try to make a connection there was a terrible thunder and lightning storm reported over the Knickerbocker Hotel…
Ava Gardner's first husband, Mickey Rooney, who had 8 wives in his lifetime and who passed away in 2014 was an American actor, comedian, radio personality, vaudevillian, and producer who appeared in more than 300 films and was among the last surviving stars of the silent film era. In January 1937, Mickey put together an eight piece-band to perform in the renowned Lido Room of the hotel. He had even broadcasted radio station KMTR a daily show, from the Knickerbocker.
Interior of the Hollywood Knickerbocker
The old quote “Well-behaved women seldom make history” rings true with the tragically beautiful and mentally tormented Frances Farmer. She was Hollywood's original bad girl. Rebellious spirit and easy on the eyes. She shot to fame fast and was selected along with 6 other young girls by Paramount Studios as up and coming starlets with a lot of potential. The studio took a photo of all 7 girls and dubbed them the “Lucky 7” but unfortunately none of them were lucky and none of their careers flourished very far. Of the 7, Frances gained her notoriety after her movies Rhythm on the Range with Bing Crosby and the Howard Hawks film Come and Get it, where Hawks called her the greatest actor he has ever worked with. After those movies propelled her career forward she felt empowered and comfortable rejecting parts that displayed her as a studio puppet or in any way that didn't sit right with her. She was quickly growing tired of the studio dictating her schedule and suggesting to her who to socialize with and where to be seen. Even though she is forever immortalized by Jessica Lange in the 1982 film “Frances” people often associate her name with what happened while she was living at the Knickerbocker. After having an affair with a married director whom she thought would leave his wife for her but didn't, her life spiraled out of control.
Frances was often drunk and had been arrested for drunk driving and disorderly conduct. She was a young beautiful rebel that 1943 didn’t know how to handle properly. She was reported to be a violent and abusive person, fighting with other patrons at bars and hitting film crew members. She was once arrested on Sunset Blvd for walking down the street topless and drunk. She was also ticketed for her drunken bouts around town, her public downward spiral was a true Hollywood tragedy.
Her mother attempted many times to help her daughter and decided to rent a room at the Knickerbocker which is where police traced her when she failed to report to her probation officer as well as neglecting to pay some of her fines due to drinking and driving. During this time another studio hairdresser had filed suit against Frances claiming physical abuse and bodily harm. On January 13th, 1943 when police attempted to arrest Frances peacefully the situation took a sharp turn for the worst. Frances wouldn’t open the door even though it was clear she was inside and behaving erratically. Officers gained access inside her room with a hotel pass key. Upon entering the room officers saw Frances completely naked, heavily drunk, and in the midst of a mental manic episode. She took her time to try on all of her clothes for the officers. After a good while she dressed in a powder blue wool suit and walked with officers down to the lobby. She was punching and kicking as screaming the whole time, bringing a lot of attention from patrons and other residents staying at the hotel. The words of one reporter at the scene was “She did not surrender peacefully.” By the time her squirming naked body was being dragged across the lobby into the squad car, it was very clear that her career was coming to a screeching halt. Photos of her have circulated for decades showing a police officer dragging her.
That photo was taken the next morning while at Santa Monica Court after her arrest from the Knickerbocker.
While in court the judge asked about her drinking since last they saw her and she admitted to drinking by saying "I put liquor in my milk, in my coffee, and in my orange juice, do you want me to starve?"She even admitted to drinking Benzedrine, the first brand of amphetamine marketed in the United States in the 1930s. The use of this drug was similar to speed, and its use took off with those suffering from narcolepsy, chronic fatigue, and depression. By 1945 13 million tablets were produced every month in the U.S. It is safe to say Frances had her share of drugs and alcohol and unfortunately mixing those mood-altering drugs with a broken heart from her man she was having an affair with was a cocktail for destruction. The judge was not amused and told her to hold her tongue. He reminded her of the terms of her probation and she kept speaking out and demanded a phone call, stating the officers violated her civil rights and that she demanded an attorney. In anger and frustration, she grabbed an inkwell and threw it at the judge which made her situation worse. The judge ordered her to be taken away and spend 180 days in jail. As she was being dragged away she was quoted screaming "Have you never suffered from a brown heart?" At the request of her mother, she had a mental evaluation where doctors said she from a slew of issues, one being schizophrenia. Unfortunately, her mother suggested for Frances to be institutionalized, something she endured for years. At the mental ward, Frances was deemed manic depressive and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia which was also a side effect of the amphetamines. She was administered insulin shock therapy, medications that made her severely nauseous, and all the while no one in her family signed off on allowing the hospital to run such tests. She was released briefly in 1946 and spoke about the heinous abuse with shots, pills, hydrotherapy baths, and electric shock treatments. Frances was also given an involuntary lobotomy. Not to go off on a tangent but the girl lived a rough life, in and out of mental institutions. Knickerbocker Hotel was her refuge and the last place she held onto any part of the life she was first stepping into. Can you imagine the haunting memories she had of the life she once lived? Later in life, she worked at a building that was once the location of where they were honoring her at the height of her career. That alone can really do some damage to a person's spirit.
The reputation of the Knickerbocker kept growing over the next few decades. Celebrities and socialites flocked to the hotel to see and be seen, to dance, to low-key drink, to partake in the luxuries that came with being young, rich, and famous in Hollywood. Everyone had a story at the Knickerbocker.
Of all the most notable individuals that shaped Hollywood, I would say D.W. Griffith as being the most important. Why? Because he is remembered as “the man who invented Hollywood.” “The father of film technique” and “the Shakespeare of the screen.” He was an American film director, the one who made the first movie in Hollywood. Before the Knickerbocker was even built, D.W. Griffith along with his friends Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford created United Artists. Yeah, he’s a really big deal. We still have what he created, as well as know the long lineage of actor families because they got their start through Griffith. He created stars we still know about today, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, and Richard Barthelmess, to name a few.
The Founders of the United Artist
Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks
Griffith was the first movie head to hire the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra to play the movie the Birth of a Nation, originally called Clansman. When the show started, and the music blasted through the theatre, the audience and every director and producer realized the strength and power of music and movies combined. We still incorporate the orchestra with the opening and throughout the best films ever made, thanks D.W.
Towards the end of his life Hollywood forgot about their father, he raised a lot of brows with the movies he made, The Birth of a Nation is considered the most racist movie ever made. Ironically, the release of The Birth of a Nation (1915) inspired many African-Americans to start making their own films in an attempt to counter the film's depiction of them and to offer positive alternative images and stories of the African-American people.
The NAACP attempted to have the movie banned. After that effort failed, they attempted to have some of the films more extreme scenes censored.
He tried to show all angles and at times was one-sided in his approach. But he was, of his time and tried to pioneer where he could, and just like the stories we still hear about today, Hollywood did forget him and all he offered the industry.
He took refuge within the Knickerbocker the last year of his life. He was an aging quiet man whom many probably walked past in the lobby every day not knowing he was the father of film. On July 23rd, 1948, D.W. Griffith fell unconscious inside the lobby due to a cerebral hemorrhage and died moments later while in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Just. like. That…
By the time the 1950s were in full swing, the Knickerbocker hosted celebrities like Marilyn Monroe who would sneak in through the kitchen to avoid the press while she and then-boyfriend Joe DiMaggio would meet up.
Elvis Presley stayed at the Hotel in 1956 while making his first movie Love Me Tender. Elvis has a set of photos of himself on the roof of the hotel as well as walking into the hotel. He stayed in room 1014 which is now split into 2 rooms, 1014A and 1014B.
Look at all that confidence! could you imagine a guy from today's era ripping his shirt off for a photo looking this pubescent? Guys nowadays are ripped to shreds, but here is the image of what 1956 fainted over...
Then there is the tragic death of Hollywood powerhouse designer, Irene.
“Anything new and beautiful makes one think beautiful thoughts”
She was the head costume designer for MGM in the 1940s where she created iconic costumes for Lana Turner, Doris Day, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, and many more, my favorite photos of 1950s glamour are often of model Dovima in Irene's designs. When Vivian Leigh won Best Actress for Gone With the Wind, she was wearing an Irene design.
There was an unspoken truth that Irene was a lesbian and only married writer Elliot Gibbons (brother of legendary set designer Cedric Gibbons) in 1936 for convenience. Is that why she wanted to be known as only Irene? She was a huge success in her time and was nominated for a few Academy Awards. She continued her work as a designer and eventually left MGM to start her own design house, Irene, Inc. Her marriage was troubled due to her husband's illnesses which drained them financially and led her down a path of depression and drinking.
On November 15th, 1962, she checked into the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel at 2 a.m straight to room 1129.
She was heavily drinking as 2-pint bottles of alcohol were found in her room. She wrote a 2-page suicide note mentioning her husband's illness and apologizing to hotel guests and staff for any inconvenience her death may cause. At 3:12 that afternoon she pushed the window screen of room 1129 and jumped out the window. Reports indicate a Mr. Lombardo was staying in room 429 and heard the crash on the roof and contacted the hotel manager. Mr. Tozzi who discovered Irene on the 3rd-floor roof was less than 10 feet from room 329.
This is the location where Irene's body was found.
Rumors have circulated online that she killed herself because she was in love with Gary Cooper who died the year before…I don’t buy it. There are other rumors that she slit her wrists and that didn’t kill her fast enough therefore she threw herself out of the window.again, I don’t buy that either as there are no mentions of her wrists being slit in the death report or newspaper articles of her death at the time.
Another false report states she was not found until almost a week later, not true. The newspaper clippings I found online indicate she was found the same day.
In her suicide note, she also asked that Elliot be looked after and to find someone very good to design.
She was 61 years old…
In 1966 William Frawley, otherwise known as Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy had a heart attack outside of the hotel and was dragged into the hotel where he was pronounced dead under the chandelier. At the time of his death, he did not live at the Knickerbocker but he did call the hotel his home for a good 30 years. Important years of his life when he was filming the I Love Lucy Show. It's sad but beautiful that he also died there.
Today, the Knickerbocker is a senior housing facility that caters to mostly immigrant seniors. The lobby looks nothing like it used to, stripped of its decorated beauty. Very few original pieces remain within the walls of the Knickerbocker Hotel.
I headed down to the structure to have a look for myself and upon entering was aggressively assaulted by an older woman who only spoke Russian to me. I apologized that I didn't understand her and she took a step forward and raised her hand in a motion where she was telling me to leave. She was so upset with me being there.
I decided to walk on in to find the office. Let me start out by saying that the hotel lacks a lot. a lot a lot. Everything that once made the hotel grand and luxurious is now gone. The arches in the lobby are covered, the ceiling lowered but the chandelier that was purchased in the 1950s is still there.
Directly behind the chandelier is where the Rose Room once was
... okay, so I have had your attention this whole time, here is where it gets juicy...
I walked from the lobby up to the 9th floor. On floor 5 or 6, I'm not sure, I started to feel really uneasy. I still walked up to floor 9 but felt like I was being watched. Now, hear me out...I don't want to sound crazy but I do want to share with you what I felt while in the stairwell. While walking from the 5th/6th floor up to the 9th I stopped at the landing because I had a quick flash of a woman sitting on the steps by the doorway, with her head between her hands crying, I didn't see her, but an image flashed in my mind of that, if that makes any sense at all. I felt so uneasy I decided to take the elevator up to the 11th floor... I don't know why I didn't push through I just didn't feel comfortable...
it's a tiny little elevator...
Once I was upstairs and looking for room 1129 I noticed another stairwell to the left of room 1129, I decided to snap a photo from the stairwell looking down.
I took my photos of where Irene threw herself out of the window and onto the roof of the 3rd floor and I was wanted to get out of the building.
When I left the structure, I drove up Ivar up to the Alto Nido apartments and drove back down so I could record the street and view of the building. I didn't have the radio on and I clearly wasn't with anyone that day... but please listen for yourself...
When I looked over my pictures and videos the next day after visiting the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel I had chills all over my body. Who the heck was talking to me??
She sounds like she's sitting right next to me, talking to me about the hotel. "Inspiring....devastating...but beneficial because...." that's all I was able to understand. I heard nothing when I was filming and I know for a fact I didn't have my radio on because I was listening to my Pandora radio on my phone and the music doesn't play when you record with your phone. I started recording as I was approaching the building from the street light. Had I heard anything while I was recording I would have kept on recording to hear what she had to say...
Please take the time to read my next post, next week where I will be having a private tour of the structure. I look forward to seeing more and showing you all what the building looks like inside. I will try to dig up more vintage photos and anything else I can find on the time the hotel was at its peak...
…oh if those walls could talk….