Issue: Fall 2017

The Hollywood Roosevelt

The 1927 newspaper ad promised that Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson and other stars would be coming to the glamorous party celebrating the “The Moving Picture Hotel,” which had opened its doors several months earlier in May.

As this luxurious landmark approaches its 90th anniversary, we decided to look back at the history—and some of the strange stories—associated with what is one of Tinsel Town’s most famous residents: The Roosevelt Hotel. Standing right across the street from the TCL Chinese Theatre, it’s right in the middle of the 2,400 or so stars that make up the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and for many years it was the office and home of former radio star and honorary “Mayor of Hollywood,” Johnny Grant.

Named after the 26th president of the United States, the Roosevelt cost $2.5 million, and was paid for by Pickford, Fairbanks, theatre owner Sid Grauman and studio mogul Louis B. Mayer.

Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style by architects Fisher, Lake & Traver, the 12-storey building had 300 rooms and was the height of luxury—it had a large pool, banqueting space, library, barbershop and laundry service—and today it’s just as opulent, with leather sofas, huge iron chandeliers and tiled fountains.

The Roosevelt has hosted countless celebrities, politicians and VIPs over the decades, and many shows and movies have filmed here too (Beverly Hills Cop II, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Catch Me If You Can and Curb Your Enthusiasm, to name just a few). Movie buffs might also be thrilled to know that child actress Shirley Temple apparently took an impromptu tap-dancing lesson from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson on the stairs here.

There are a number of notable penthouses including the Gable-Lombard, which has views of the Hollywood sign and was named after the Golden Era actor lovers who stayed there for $5 a night, and the stunning Marilyn Monroe suite.

The blonde actress lived at the Roosevelt for a couple of years early in her career, and it’s said her big break was when she was photographed at the pool for a toothpaste ad. The hotel has another famous story about her, but we’ll talk about that later. The Roosevelt Hotel hit the big time straight away, and its Blossom Room was the location of the first Academy Awards in May 1929, though it was a more formal affair in those days. The results had already been announced, and it was all over in less than half an hour! They weren’t even called the “Oscars” yet, either.

The Roosevelt spent many years in the spotlight, but by the 1950s the management decided on a change, demolishing some archways and ordering a “colorful” repaint of the exterior.

Fans and historians grumbled, but new owners Radisson dug out the original blueprints and old photos as part of a $35m renovation in 1985, and the lobby was restored and the fountain added. They also commissioned British artist David Hockney to create a mural for the swimming pool.

Further expensive renovations have taken place since, and in 1991 the building was declared Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #545—but it’s events from the past that still intrigue (and maybe scare) visitors today.

As a booster of all things Hollywood for over 35 years, the late Johnny Grant attended over 500 Walk of Fame ceremonies and helped ensure the terrazzo stars were kept clean and repaired – and even recovered if they were stolen.

According to Jackie Lugo, his long-time secretary/assistant at the Hollywood Historic Trust, he regularly talked about the Roosevelt Hotel...and how it was haunted.

“Johnny was always telling me about the strange sounds and odd noises that he would hear, and there was even one incident that I witnessed with my own eyes and ears,” she said.

“He had telephones in every room of the penthouse, where he lived for almost 20 years. The phone in what we called the “den” was not plugged into any outlet, and the wire just hung down – but there were several occasions when it would ring!” she explained. “Of course, no one would be on the line when I answered, though Johnny kept saying it was Marilyn! He knew her during her career, but I’m not sure if he was kidding about it being her!”

As for the story about Marilyn at the Roosevelt Hotel, it’s said that one day in 1985 an employee looked in a huge, full-length mirror in the manager’s office and caught sight of a beautiful blonde standing behind her. But there was no one else in the room.

Later the employee found out that the mirror had once been requested by a former resident—Marilyn. For many years the mirror was on display in the hotel, but at the moment it’s in storage (or is it? There are rumors it was taken somewhere else).

There are many other supernatural stories linked to the Roosevelt. One of the most compelling concerns sightings of a ghostly little girl in a blue dress who has been seen playing by the fountain in the lobby.

Christened “Caroline” by the staff, the story goes that she and her brother were staying here with their father, but one night when he went out to run an errand they decided to play at the pool and she fell in and drowned.

Some years later, the house telephone operator got a call from the lobby phone—it was a small girl “looking for her daddy.” Almost as well-known is the story of room 928.

Many guests on that floor have reported hearing a musical instrument and the sound of footsteps pacing, and a female guest in that room stated that the coffee pot, television and lights in her room kept switching on and off. She was moved to another room, but these odd things happened there too, and she checked out in the early hours.

It turned out that she had been using an Ouija board to try and contact the spirit of actor Montgomery Clift. During filming of "From Here to Eternity" in 1953, Clift had stayed in 928 and was often heard practicing the bugle (his character was a musician), and pacing up and down the corridor practicing his lines.

There’s no solid evidence for any of this of course, and it shouldn’t put you off visiting the Roosevelt—or even having a cocktail there. Foodies might head for the Public Kitchen & Bar, while partyers might prefer the fun Spare Room, which is on the Mezzanine level and features two 1920s bowling lanes (which you can rent if you want to splash out).

There’s also the sophisticated Library Bar and of course the Tropicana Bar, which overlooks the pool (and is the best place for star-spotting). For night owls, 25 Degrees is a 24/7 gourmet burger bar just off the hotel lobby.

Jackie, who was working for KTLA radio when she met Johnny at the annual Hollywood Christmas Parade and got offered the job, recalls her years as the most exciting job she ever had. “I never knew who was going to be on the phone when I picked it up,” she recalls. As for that mysterious telephone, Grant finally put it in a closet. “And I never heard it ring again! DH