If Carole Lombard's ghost ever wants to dance, she'll sadly discover that one of her favorite haunts, pardon the pun, is now more of a ghost itself than it's ever been -- and appears destined to stay that way.
We're referring to the Cocoanut Grove, the legendary ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. The hotel opened in early 1921, the Grove later that year, and it became the hip place for Angelenos to strut their stuff. Here's what the Grove's exotic decor looked like in those early years, along with a later, color shot:
In her late teens, Carol Lombard was a regular at the Grove, participating in many a Charleston contest against Joan Crawford and other budding stars. And when she wasn't dancing, she was enjoying the music of the best orchestras the West Coast had to offer. For many years, Gus Arnheim led the house band at the Grove, and its alumni included several with future Lombard ties: Russ Columbo, Bing Crosby (who was hired as part of the Rhythm Boys) and Fred MacMurray, when he was a saxophonist and not an actor.
Lombard eventually found other outlets for her nightlife, but the Grove continued to fluorish. And just to show there's nothing new under the sun, check out this 1939 picture of an early version of the sixties dance craze, the limbo:
The Ambassador was a Los Angeles landmark, as this 1936 ad makes evident:
But its end effectively came in the late 1980s, when its owners shut the hotel. For years, there were all sorts of plans about what to do with this tantalizing real estate. Donald Trump wanted to build the world's tallest building on the site, but that plan never came close to fruition. Eventually, the Los Angeles Unified School District bought the land, with intentions of building a high school.
Environmental concerns delayed the Ambassador's demolition for years, and in the meantime local preservationists, recognizing that its loss would be L.A.'s equivalent of losing the old Pennsylvania Station in New York, made a determined stand to save the hotel, which was periodically rented out for use by filmmakers. (The last film shot there was appropriate: "Bobby," dealing with the saddest incident in the hotel's history, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 following his win in the California Democratic presidential primary.)
The hotel was pulled down in the spring of 2006, but there remained hopes that the Grove, a separate facility, could somehow be preserved in some form and incorporated into the high school, perhaps as an auditorium. No such luck; this week, the school board unanimously voted to tear down what's left of the Grove -- truthfully, not much:
Structural weakness of the remaining building was cited. Demolition is set to begin next month.
(Incidentally, the Ambassador's Cocoanut Grove was unrelated to a Boston nightclub of the same name where a fire claimed several hundred lives in November 1942. One of the fatalities was cowboy star Buck Jones, who made two silents with Lombard at Fox in 1925.)