The Chateau Marmont has a spectacular history, built in 1929 as an apartment complex and opened as a hotel in 1931; it has survived five earthquakes and, thanks to a renovation effort in 1990, it has been saved from dereliction to become as iconic as the celebrities who pass through its doors.
Architecturally, the Chateau was inspired by the Château D’Amboise in the Loire Valley.
It was initially designed to be the first earthquake-proof apartment building in L.A. As the Chateau states on its website the rooms are ‘perfect for hosting an impromptu party, our thick soundproof walls ensure privacy’.
Somewhat unfortunately, the build was finished just as the Great Depression hit Hollywood and the developers found themselves without tenets and bills to pay.
The building changed hands in 1931 and its new owner, Albert E. Smith, opened it as a hotel. Smith had great vision and maintained most of the rooms as apartments, with a kitchen and seating area, enclosed balconies and some with a dining room.
Smith also took advantage of the Depression-era estate sales to deck out the place with antiques and luxury items.
Thanks to its soundproof walls, exceptionally discreet staff and private living spaces, it was an immediate hit with the film elite of the 1930’s. Harry Cohn, former head of Columbia Pictures is famously quoted as telling his actors, “If you are going to get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.”
And get in trouble they did, most famously perhaps is the story of Jean Harlow and Clark Gable having a passionate affair while Harlow was honeymooning at the hotel with her third husband; maybe it’s the rumor that Howard Hughes would use binoculars to spy on starlets at the pool from his balcony in room 64.
It’s often speculated that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack outside the entrance while buying cigarettes. However, according to Mental Floss the heart attack happened across the street, at Schwab’s Drug Store, in 1940.
Harry Cohn’s sentiment has become an informal coat of arms for the hotel that has seen James Dean jump through a window in his audition piece for Rebel Without A Cause and Jim Morrison jump out of another window during a stay at the hotel that he would later say “used eight of my nine lives.”
As one can imagine from a hotel with soundproof rooms, some stories will remain behind closed doors, but some are too salacious, fabulous or downright tragic to stay out of the public lexicon for too long. Peter Pavel, the manager of Chateau Marmont, said when asked by the New York Times about the outlandish behavior: “People do things here that they wouldn’t dare think of doing at the Peninsula or the Four Seasons, and we think that’s a good thing.”
Tales of excess from the Chateau include Led Zeppelin riding their motorcycles through the lobby of the hotel and Billy Idol having the police called on him when he trashed his room while naked.
More recently, Lindsay Lohan was banned in 2012 for racking up a $46,000 room service tab and refusing to pay while Britney Spears was banned in 2007 for smearing food all over her face and upsetting other diners, we now know that she was in the grips of a nervous breakdown at the time.
Of course, the Chateau is full of stories of celebrity hookups, from Dennis Hopper’s 50-woman orgy to Benicio Del Toro and Scarlett Johansson’s 2004 tryst in the elevator, things can get a little steamy at the Chateau Marmont.
Among the most tragic are the untimely deaths of actor John Belushi from drug-related asphyxiation in 1980 and the 2004 death of photographer Helmut Newton after he crashed his car into the hotel driveway wall.
To visit the Chateau Marmont today is to spend the day among the Hollywood elite. When questioned about its continuing allure, Lisa Love, Vogue West Coast Editor is quoted in the New York Times as saying “There’s nothing precious about it, it’s just a huge bohemian scene. It is like an extension of your living room.” Except this living room is full of antique furniture, gourmet food and A-list celebrities.