The Ambassador's Drawn-Out Farewell
We've been chronicling the Ambassador's final days here at Franklin Avenue for months, and have wondered, like you, when the demolition will finally be completed. First we heard word that the hotel would be gone by the end of the year.
Now, the L.A. Times reports that the process should be done by March:
Demolition of the landmark Ambassador Hotel to make way for a 4,200-seat campus is dragging on and on, they say, even though school officials have argued since the early 1990s that they desperately need its space for classrooms — and need it quickly.
The tear-down is in its fifth month — and to many Wilshire Boulevard passersby and neighbors, there appears to be no end in sight. In fact, there's not even not a wrecking ball in sight.
Los Angeles Unified School District planners say the demolition only appears to be going slowly because workers were forced to remove asbestos and lead from the 85-year-old hotel before knocking down its concrete walls.
Now authorities have to deal with the unexpected discovery of methane gas beneath the 24-acre hotel grounds.
Soil tests last month revealed the problem. Experts said school builders will probably be required to install an "impermeable membrane" beneath the new campus, along with a network of pipes to vent the gas.
Authorities said Thursday that could add millions to the campus' $270-million cost and could affect the planned 2008 opening of its elementary school. A middle school and a high school are also planned for the site; they are scheduled to open in 2009.
Still, LAUSD officials downplay the methane, refusing to compare it to the Belmont school debacle. Meanwhile, the story also explains why dynamite wasn't used to take the building down (too messy -- no one wants asbestos flying everywhere) and notes that the school district hasn't yet figured out what to do with the pantry where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated:
Jim Cowell, the school district's director of construction, said documentation of the Ambassador's past for the historical record also added to "the perception that it's taking a long time" to raze the hotel.
There was plenty to include in the record. Every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon stayed at the Ambassador at one time or another. After delivering a victory speech in the hotel's Embassy Ballroom in June of 1968, Kennedy was gunned down while exiting through the adjacent pantry.
"We have removed and preserved the portion of the building referred to as the pantry," Cowell said. "That's being stored off-site. What will be done with it is uncertain. There are a number of options, and a committee of experts has been commissioned by the superintendent to look at them."
Also, contrary to original plans, the school won't replicate the look of the hotel after all. But the district promises to keep the "iconic view from Wilshire," which means building the school in the same footprint as the hotel, and maintaining the grassy field between the Cocoanut Grove (the one part of the hotel that will remain) and Wilshire.