Taylor Swift danced on the reception desks, Al Capone made himself comfortable in the Presidential Suite, the Oscars came to life on a napkin here, the Beatles had to ‘sneak’ in by landing on the roof, and Rocky boxed his way to victory in the ballroom. The Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles is one of the world’s most storied grand hotels with a history that’s truly one-of-a-kind. Discover the stories of Presidents and ghostbusters, famous frescoes, and speakeasy escape routes, in our guide to the history of The Biltmore.
Birth Of The Biltmore
Hotelier John McEntee Bowman was the man behind The Biltmore and partnering with the architectural genius of Schultze & Weaver, as well as the Italian artistry of Giovanni ‘John’ Smeraldi, they created one of the first great hotels in the western United States. Conceived in the early 1920’s as the movie industry was entering it’s golden era, The Biltmore was built in 18-months, and invited it’s first guests in the fall of 1923.
At a cost of $10 million dollars (equivalent to more than $150 million today) no expense was spared in the design, the finishes or the excess that would make The Biltmore the most talked about hotel’s in the U.S. for many years to come.
The architect’s intention was to build a hotel that paid homage to grand European palaces; and with over 1600 rooms, eleven stories high, and covering more than half a city block, the scale of the hotel when it opened was certainly palatial. But the real spectacle awaits behind the doors, where a combination of Smeraldi’s artwork alongside the lavish use of crystal, marble, tapestries, gold, and cast bronze elevates it from palace-homage, to truly grand in its own right.
A building this impressive deserved an impressive opening night, and The Biltmore’s opening gala did not disappoint. The main ballroom was filled with more than 3000 guests, where they mingled with the A-list of the era. They dined on seven courses, were surrounded by flowers, and seven orchestras accompanied by caged canaries entertained the astounded partygoers. Visitors to the hotel can still be treated to a taste of that opening night where the gala’s most famous dress is on display in a glass case. Worn by socialite and costume designer Peggy Hamilton, the dress is a romantic fabric reimagining of the Crystal Ballroom complete with a hand painted reproduction of one of the ceiling’s frescoes and ‘balcony’ pockets.
From the Black Dahlia to The Beatles, and Britney Spears to JFK, only the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles could connect them all.
LA’s Grande Dame Has Quite A Story
At nearly a century old, The Biltmore has unsurprisingly seen quite a lot. From the excess of the roaring twenties to the struggles of the Great Depression, through wartime and Beatlemania, and from neglect to a glamorous rebirth. Discover some of the history of The Biltmore hotel in LA as we take a quick decade-by-decade tour.
1920’s – The Biltmore quickly gain a reputation as the place to be
The twenties saw the guestrooms and ballrooms filled with the most famous faces of the time, earning it the nickname ‘The Host of The Coast’. The Gold Room was one of LA’s most famous prohibition-era nightclubs, Peggy Hamilton helped change the face of fashion over afternoon tea, and the Academy Awards was conceived in the Crystal Ballroom. Even the design for world’s most famous and coveted movie award, the Oscar, was first doodled on one of The Biltmore’s napkins.
1930’s – The Biltmore played host to the Academy Awards
Throughout the thirties, The Biltmore’s connection with Hollywood’s biggest stars was well established. Journey back in time and the ballroom was the dancefloor of choice for luminaries like Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, and Ginger Rogers. Despite the turbulence of the Great Depression, Baron Long, the new hotelier, established the world’s largest nightclub, The Biltmore Bowl.
1940’s – A unique use of the hotel
Los Angeles saw a boom in industry and activity during the war years, as well as a unique use for the hotel. Swapping the battlefront for The Biltmore, servicemen recovering from fighting in World War II were hosted in a military rest facility on the hotel’s second floor. Shortly after the end of the war the hotel found itself in the middle of one of the most infamous unsolved murders of the twentieth century. Last seen in the hotel lobby, the actress Elizabeth Short, would be found murdered hours later, and the Black Dahlia continues to captivate decades later.
1960’s – Chosen as the base for the 1960 Democratic National Convention
The Biltmore was the pivotal starting point of JFK’s Presidential campaign. As well as Kennedy, the hotel has welcomed Presidents Truman, Roosevelt, Carter, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Even Nelson Mandela spent some time in the Biltmore in 1990.
It’s not only political heavyweights that have made themselves at home in The Biltmore. In ’64, at the height of Beatlemania, the Fab Four were staying in the hotel’s Presidential Suite, but once the fans heard where they were staying, they crowded the sidewalks. Unable to even get to the door, John, Paul, George, and Ringo arrived by helicopter and landed on the roof.
1970’s – Sad years for The Biltmore
Sadly, after the highs of the sixties, downtown LA saw a decline during the following decades. One of The Biltmore’s last big hurrah’s was in 1977 with the 50th anniversary of the Oscars. The Biltmore was forgotten, the doors closed, and what was once the pride of the city was destined for demolition. Recognising its historic value and beauty, architects Gene Summers and Phyllis Lambert stepped in to save her. They paid just $5.4 million to buy the building, and then proceeded to spend a further $30 million refreshing and modernising the hotel.
1980’s – Back to The Biltmore original glory
The Biltmore would change hands once again, this time the new owners brought it for a more significant $75 million and spent another $135 million bringing the hotel back to its original glory.
The Millennium hotel group became the new custodians for The Biltmore in the year 2000 and have continued to ensure that not only is the heritage of the hotel preserved, but that the guest experience is equally memorable.
Architecture & Design of The Biltmore LA
The Millennium Biltmore Hotel has an endless collection of heritage features that have earned it a rightful place as an Elite Member of the Historic Hotels of America. From the floors to the ceilings the architecture and design of The Biltmore is a love letter to elegance and opulence.
One of the most beautiful and important historic features in the hotel are the Smeraldi murals that can be seen throughout. After studying with some of Italy’s master painters, Smeraldi went on to paint frescoes in the White House, Grand Central Station, and the Vatican. Giovanni ‘John B.’ Smeraldi was the perfect choice to bring old-world elegance to the hotel. Reminiscent of Michelangelo, Smeraldi spent nearly a year on scaffolding painting ceilings in the hotel. He saw it as his greatest work, and even requested to return later in life to refine some of the murals.
With so many architectural details to take in, it’s easy to miss some of the highlights.
- The hotel’s Gallery Bar and Cognac Room is a reproduction of the royal hall where Queen Isabella first heard of Columbus’ discovery of America.
- The Rendezvous Court is a favourite for afternoon tea, but in between your pastries, take a moment to admire the Moorish Revival style ceiling with it’s 24 carat gold accents.
- You might not notice when you’re working out in the pool or gym, but the ornate styling was inspired by Roman baths and the glamour of 1920’s ocean liners.
- And make time to wander the hotel’s South Galeria where the gilded gates, panelled walls, columns and friezes took their inspiration from the villas of Pompeii.
Comprising part of the hotel’s 70,000 square feet of event space are two of the hotel’s most special spaces, the Gold Room and the Crystal Ballroom. Getting its name from the two Austrian 22-foot crystal chandeliers the crystal ballroom is a stunning event space, and hosts everything from ballroom dances to the most upscale weddings. The domed ceiling with its grand frescoes was Smeraldi’s ‘most satisfying artistic endeavour.’ Head on over to the Gold Room and LA’s most famous speakeasy and dance hall still retains all of its original glitz. You might not need to use the 1920’s hidden exit to escape the police or worry about the flash bulbs of paparazzi behind a secret window, but the Gold Room will make you feel like a celebrity.
Big Screen at The Biltmore
Even if you’ve never visited The Biltmore, you’ll recognise it. From Bill Murray busting ghosts to Ed Sheeran dancing the night away, the hotel has been the star of some of Hollywood’s biggest features, countless binge-worthy TV shows, the shooting location of choice for music royalty, and even inspired a spooky Disneyworld ride.
In recent years Taylor Swift felt a little ‘Delicate’ here, Britney Spears was ‘Overprotected’ in the hallways, Ed Sheeran recorded the video for his Grammy winning ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and John Legend explored the hotel in his video for ‘Penthouse Floor’. Talking of legends, the hotel has also featured in music videos from Jennifer Lopez and Janet Jackson.
The hotel’s iconic gallery arcade set the scene for Don Draper to make a pitch in Mad Men, doubled up as the White House in some scenes from Scandal and the West Wing, and featured in everything from ER to 24.
From classics like the original Oceans II, Chinatown, The Sting and Ghostbusters, to Spiderman, Rocky III, The Italian Job, National Treasure and Independence Day, the Biltmore has been connected with cinema from the start.
The Biltmore’s long and thrilling history has led to some spooky tales. So spooky in fact that we helped inspire Disneyworld’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride
Stay like a movie star in LA’s most famous historic hotel. As part of Leng’s Collection, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles is as iconic now as it ever was.