Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles and The Theatre at Ace Hotel
The former United Artists Theatre and office tower now enjoy new life as an Ace Hotel with a beautifully rehabbed theatre, ushering in a whole new era of entertainment.
In 1919, director D. W. Griffith and screen stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin broke from the studio system to form United Artists (UA), thus gaining complete control over the creation, production and distribution of their work.
Seven years later, the United Artists Theatre Circuit was formed to showcase first-run UA productions. This theatre was the flagship for UA’s West Coast operations.
The building includes a thirteen-story steel-framed office tower designed by Albert R. Walker and Percy A. Eisen, with a theatre behind it designed by C. Howard Crane. Crane was a noted architect who designed more than 250 theatres across the country. This is his only design on the West Coast, as he did most of his work in the Midwest.
The building’s facade is clad in terra cotta and cast stone. Overlaid with gothic-style tracery at the base and on the tower, the symmetrical design of the building is typical of early Art Deco styling, with evenly spaced piers of light beige terra-cotta separated by darker terra-cotta spandrels giving a vertical thrust to the design.
The center bays rise an additional fifty feet to a set back tower of pressed metal (considered a roof “sign” by the city). In addition to giving the building distinctive height and a place to display the name of the building’s tenant, the tower houses mechanical systems.
Above the first floor are two stories of gothic-inspired ornamentation, with a Hollywood twist: between double wide arched windows are column capitals that feature cameramen and musicians instead of the usual grotesques.
The auditorium has the appearance of a grotto, heavily laden with plaster ornament. Fan-shaped ceiling brackets, which are a feature of the English Gothic style, are encrusted with ornament in the Spanish Gothic manner.
The ceiling is decorated as an enormous sunburst, with the oval dome at the center tiled with mirrors and hung with thousands of crystal drops. The sides of the dome are encircled with angels.
The side walls of upper balconies feature murals depicting UA’s founders, along with other stars of the era including Rudolph Valentino and John Barrymore. Handsome nudes on one mural are alleged to be members of the UA Board of Directors; demons on other side are reportedly caricatures of evil studio bosses.
The murals are by Jose Rivas (son of Candelario Rivas, who painted murals at the Los Angeles and Palace theatres) through the Anthony Heinsbergen studio. Heinsbergen’s design firm was responsible for nearly 750 theatre interiors (including the Pantages Hollywood), as well as murals at Los Angeles City Hall.
The office building above was occupied for many years by Texaco, whose huge neon sign was mounted on the tower. In 1989, the property was acquired by the University Cathedral Church of Dr. Gene Scott. It was completely refurbished and served as the headquarters of the church from that time until the church moved in 2011.
In 2012, the building was converted into the boutique Ace Hotel, and the theatre was restored as an event and performance space. This project received a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2014.