Scrapbook of a Pink Palace in the Sand
Scrapbook of a pink palace in the sand was a line taken from Joan Didion’s short story “Sojourns” that I scribbled in a notebook. In this she says “of course, great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.” Didion was writing about The Royal Hawaiian in 1970s Honolulu but I can’t help but find a connection between the scene she set there and the scene in which the Hotel Normandie was born…“a kind of life lived always on the streets where the oldest trees grow…those warm early evenings, the women in turquoise-blue and buttercup-yellow chiffons seem, as they wait for cars under the pink porte-cochere, the natural inheritors of a style later seized upon by Patricia Nixon and her daughters.” Wilshire Center was where Hollywood glamour cultivated its identity, where car culture was born and perfected, where the Ambassador Hotel and adjoining Cocoanut Grove thrived, plus a plethora of hotels, furriers, department stores, upscale apartments, all meticulously arranged and landscaped for Los Angeles’ pre WWII Hollywood elite—as Didion later calls “the last extant stable society.” Didion’s short story has a dreamlike quality to it, not unlike the storied grandeur of Wilshire Center. The sobering reality is that this is also where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated (which, coincidentally, Didion remarks on in the same short story), and where the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 brought Koreans to Los Angeles and created a whole new ethnic enclave, forever changing and enriching the urban landscape, but also giving rise to racial and socioeconomic tensions. Koreatown was among the hardest hit during the 1992 LA Riots and is now one of the densest neighborhoods in the entire United States. Working in the hospitality industry is necessarily transient. Having a relatively high turnover of staff, constantly changing guests and being in a fast-growing neighborhood means that the hotel is especially vulnerable to the erasure of memory that Los Angeles is so guilty of. The Normandie has had a blazingly brilliant and rich past, but also several decades of urban blight that had left it nearly unrecognizable. Reviving a cultural monument takes a team that is willing to get dirty. I wear a lot of hats at the Normandie—most prominently as Creative Director—but also as an archivist, interior designer, historical researcher, human resources manager, as well as doing work on design and development projects with the hotel’s owner and architect. I put a lot of time into absorbing and researching the neighborhood and history to recreate an identity for the hotel. Its identity, as with its larger milieu, is a dynamic work in progress. The original logo was revived through careful restoration of the original neon rooftop sign and uncovered from crumbling paint on the once grand lobby fireplace. I have given it a modern application, as well as using typefaces such as Lyon and Hermes to honor its past elegance while giving it a fresh, updated look.