Hotel Theory: The History of the Los Angeles Hotel, Part 3

By Erik MorseOctober 18, 2012

Hotel Theory: The History of the Los Angeles Hotel, Part 3

The History of the Los Angeles Hotel in the Twentieth Century: An Interview Roundtable, Part 3

With Norman KleinD.J. Waldie, Mark Z. Danielewski, Sid Krofft, Edward Soja, and Thom Andersen


  • Part 3: Edward Soja and Thom Andersen



Edward Soja teaches in the Regional and International Development (RID) area of Urban Planning at UCLA.

Edward Soja: I’m not by any stretch somebody who writes on hotels but what I have done is to write a lot about the Bonaventure Hotel, to the point where I just noticed that the Wikipedia entry for the Bonaventure is a long quote from me. But what it claims is that the whole hotel has a postmodern architecture. Charles Jencks, among other architects, has been screaming that the hotel is absolutely, classically modernist and resembles nothing of postmodern architecture — from the outside. My argument was about how the inside space is representative of the manipulative and exploitative spaces of L.A., of what I called a regional mesocosm of the city. That’s what I was writing about, the experience inside. And that triggered a huge debate. I’m just writing a book now called My Los Angeles, which goes back to all of my original writings 30 years ago and brings them up to date. I was just reviewing these debates on the Bonaventure Hotel so it’s currently on my mind in many ways.

Erik Morse: Speaking of the Bonaventure, there’s been a lot made of how much it’s changed in the last decade, both with the exterior and interior.

ES: There have been major changes to the outside. When it was originally set up it was classically Brutalist with no obvious entrance from the street. So they’ve opened it up a lot, redesigned the street entrances. But they did that some time ago. And they were trying to do some things to the inside but there’s not much you can do. One of the things Jameson and I wrote about was the repetitiveness of the inside. There were legitimate stories that I repeated that some of the shops on some of the floors were almost impossible to find. So the shops had to close down because nobody went there. And then they had a debate on what to do with those balconies —

EM: The parapets?

ES: Yeah, the parapets. I haven’t seen the parapets in the last four or five years, but they started sticking exercise equipment on them for a while. They earlier hoped it would be some kind of conversation pit. I would think that [John] Portman would have difficulty doing anything with the interior. I think it was an exaggeration of his basic atrium model and maybe he made some mistakes by the repetitiveness of the towers. But even if he tried to do something major with it, I don’t know what he could do.

EM: Have you followed Portman’s other work? Many architectural historians see him as the greatest hotel designer of the century, going all the way back to the earliest atrium hotels he built in Atlanta.

ES: Yes, I think he was and is a major figure in hotel design. And in an ultra-modernist way, he sort of opened up the whole idea of the hotel. It was a very interesting idea that he repeated, but then in the Bonaventure I think he had a greater ambition. Unlike Gehry, for instance, in whose designs you can see a string that goes back to his earliest works, the Bonaventure doesn’t seem to be an evolved space from Portman’s other work. The work I know of Portman’s is composed of these giant atria, a single atrium and then this separate front area, but not this very confusing space that the Bonaventure became. I don’t know how conscious he was, or how connected this was to the outside design, this Brutalist design. He could have just allowed this to happen as some kind of protective device — in a place where riots take place.

EM: But so much of what is made about the exterior design is that it is the kind of architecture that could only exist in Los Angeles.

ES: You mean the interior. Not the outside of the building.

EM: Well, even the outside. The model of the spaceship as some kind of West Coast fantasy of the aerospace industry or Hollywood, the stars, all those things that we associate with L.A.

ES: Maybe. This, if we call it a mistake or not, may have been derived from Portman’s desire to make something more quintessentially Los Angeles. It’s possible. At the time I was doing my work on Bonaventure, I was working with Charles Jencks, who was very angry, as I said, with all of the fuss about it. He thought it was so modernist, how could you possibly call the Bonaventure postmodernist? And like an architect, of course, he was only looking at the shell, as opposed to the experience of the interior, of the inside. But I can’t imagine that Portman thought that the internal design would be imitative of the confusing, dominating structure of Los Angeles. The idea of getting lost so easily that you have to submit to authority to get in and out, that the entrances and exits are all over the place, that there are these flying bridges that go nowhere — that this space experience is somehow similar to the space experience of Los Angeles in the sense that it is so big that you get lost, that it’s very difficult to navigate on your own; short-term visitors that don’t have friends to take them around hate Los Angeles; the city is likely to force you, to feel like you’re forced into submission and that you’ll never understand it. This is what we were writing about.

This pissed off Mike Davis because he didn’t think it political enough, because it didn’t get into the horrors of the redevelopment of downtown and Bunker Hill. Then there were art historians who thought it was too radical, with all this Marxist stuff floating around. So the Bonaventure became this strange bellwether. I used it as a kind of symbolic conclusion to my writing when I was taking the postmodern perspective more seriously. But then I moved beyond that and no longer do that kind of writing anymore.

The Bonaventure experiment was never repeated. There were many hotels that moved downtown subsequent to it, I don’t know how many, and there’s been nothing that relates at all, in any form, with the Bonaventure. I don’t know if it’s true or not but I believe it’s still the largest hotel downtown.

EM: I think so.

ES: And there’s been a lot of popularity lately with the Facebook interview with me. I’m interviewed on the balcony of the Bonaventure. I’m repeating much of what was in the Wikipedia piece. And I was suggesting — because that was just at the time the hotel was being bought by the Japanese because it was beginning to lose money and there was a fear that it might be closed down for good — that it should be transformed into a museum of postmodernity, just as others had suggested that the ruins of downtown Detroit be kept as is and become a museum of Fordism. So in that kind of spirit, I was talking about the hotel. There have been very few other places in Los Angeles that have been written about so intensely. Over the years, it became symbolic of L.A. There was a celebration at UCLA some years ago for the bicentennial of the French Revolution. It was very odd that UCLA turned out to be more of a center for the celebration than Paris. In Paris, they would show videos of what was happening at UCLA. But one of the things they had there was an exhibit that was held at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning that I was charge in of. Jean Baudrillard came to this conference. And we had the art and architecture students do a model, in which one side was the Bonaventure Hotel and the other side was the crumbling remains of the Bastille, two great symbolic monuments blending into each other.

EM: Do you think the hotel is of any importance in the story of L.A.? There seem to be few other American cities whose histories are tied to these mythic landmarks like the Biltmore, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Ambassador, the Bonaventure.

Biltmore Ballroom © Michael of Evoke Photography

ES: Well, New York is probably the closest and gets more attention than L.A. I must admit I never thought of Los Angeles as particularly iconically centered on hotels. But you’re right, the four or five that you mentioned do get a lot of attention.

EM: It seems like there is a lot of history that happens in these hotels.

ES: Well, the shooting of Kennedy is what comes immediately to mind.

EM: How about the first Oscars at the Biltmore, or the various celebrities that have died at the Chateau Marmont? It seems an odd thing in L.A. that history is often made in hotels.

ES: If you see L.A. history as disproportionately dominated by Hollywood, then that history becomes one in which hotels are going to feature prominently. The Hotel Bel-Air is the kind of place where when any tourist comes in and decides he wants to see some movie stars, that’s as good a place as anywhere else. It becomes known via the Hollywood connection. Otherwise, I’m unsure of any great historical significance.

EM: Well, definitely in the literary history, like Raymond Chandler novels, West’s Day of the Locust, and then in Fante novels.

ES: The seedy hotels.

EM: But even Thomas Pynchon or Bret Easton Ellis, for instance, this literary landscape of L.A., all of these writers use the hotel.

ES: There’s a theme there, I think, that you can develop that relates to the transient-ness and heightened mobility of Los Angeles. The size, the circulatory spread. And even returning to the visitors of the city. Visitors to Manhattan or San Francisco can immediately immerse themselves in the city on their own and they can get the feel of it very quickly. You can’t do that in L.A. You’re forced into either having some experience on the bus network or driving around in a car. That carries with it the idea that you’re a transient, that you’re not a resident. Jameson’s word was rootlessness. This is a word that he used for the Bonaventure, it’s a Raymond Chandler word, and it’s something that is often applied to L.A. — rootlessness. Even for L.A. dwellers. That gives this attachment to place historically — something that is relatively weak in L.A. – and that’s something that makes the hotel a place to sleep if you’re not a resident, something that’s very significant. You know, L.A. has now passed New York City as the densest urban area in the United States. Did you know that?

EM: No. Since when?

ES: Since the 1990 census. That’s if you take the whole urbanized area. New York’s suburbia is very sprawled out and low density; L.A.’s suburbia is very high density and urbanized. The San Fernando Valley and Orange County are not suburbs anymore.

EM: When you’re talking about suburbs of New York, you mean Westchester and Long Island?

ES: And all of Jersey and most of Connecticut. Those 23 counties cover a wide area.

EM: This is a place where there is still the very traditional urban/suburban model.

ES: Not L.A.! L.A. was this great symbol of suburban sprawl, but it’s no longer a sprawling place. It’s densified. New York is a sprawling place. Atlanta is a sprawling place. Houston is a sprawling place. And in L.A. we are seeing the difference between urban and suburban disappear entirely.

EM: I want to ask you about the concepts of the carceral archipelago and the simcity, two forms of spatial and cognitive structuring that you identify as hallmarks of the exopolis, a term to use to describe the postmodern city, exampled in Los Angeles. Although you don’t explicitly discuss the hotel industry as an institutional component of the archipelago or the simcity, I wonder how the coordinated spaces and fantasized places of tourism feed into this vision of Los Angeles as a fractured and disorienting simulation of cities of the past?

ES: The power of surveillance and the prison in Los Angeles is so extraordinary that it’s going to seep into everything. I think it’s possible to make a connection to hotels and the tourism industry. And certainly to the concept of the simcity. But these things are so pervasive… As for the theming of hotels, maybe the most recent trend is the super-entertainment complex, the shopping malls becoming theme parks.

EM: Like the Grove or the Americana, for instance?

ES: The latest thing is this sort of multiplex hotel and entertainment complex.

EM: I was in Glendale shopping at the Americana the other day and walking around the perimeter and I started to think how funny it was that there were these condo/hotels built into the mall so you could look out of your window and see this simulated village. It’s so strange to put a hotel inside of a shopping mall, as though it were an attraction.

ES: That’s part of the densification. There are these words for it. Urban villages. Boomburbs. They are part of this new process of regional urbanization, as opposed to suburbanization. Suburbanization is no longer the dominant growth path. Regional urbanization takes many different shapes. I started trying to document this with Exopolis. It’s the outside that’s developing so rapidly but it’s also the inside. There are these focal points, whether they are transit stops on a fixed rail line or these supercenters like the Grove. Super agglomerations. That’s the latest thing in Los Angeles. It’s not the normal suburbanization process. Everybody still thinks of the metropolitan model: there is the center, the urban, and then the sprawling suburbs. But that’s no longer the model, and L.A. is leading the way out of it. And so the place that was the classic suburban model is now part of a completely different urban process. The whole Los Angeles area is transforming, including the downtown area. Downtown densities are now Manhattan densities. But they’re third world populations that we’re talking about. The biggest agglomeration of the working poor, maybe in the whole world, is downtown. A huge lift pump for the economy, but also with millions of people who can’t make it above the poverty line. And Orange County is now a place where there are more jobs than bedrooms. This can’t be suburbia. It may not be a traditional city, but it is something other than suburbia.

EM: What is the distinction now between cities and suburbs in an experiential framework? How does one separate the experience of the suburbs from the experiences of the urban? What is the feeling of leaving a city? For me, it is the feeling of decompression, the feeling of relaxation. There’s not this vertical, volumetric space of the city.

ES: I think this distinction is disappearing in Los Angeles and in many other big cities, like Washington D.C. and the Bay Area. The idea that you can escape from the city is also disappearing. Los Angeles is the birthplace of these gated, garden communities, whole municipalities, like Palos Verdes. In a few areas, old suburbia is still preserved. But almost everywhere else it’s densified. Many of the gated communities were designed to enable people to escape from the city. And they’ve discovered they haven’t. Because all the threats that were in the city are suddenly there in the gated communities.

Los Angeles is developing in such a way that there are no longer those escapes in such an easy way to suburbia. This pushes the middle class toward other fantasy spots. This is why simulation runs wild in Southern California. Theme parks. And the Grove and the Americana. These become substitute spaces of escape. That’s why some of them have become very attractive. The Grove has obviously tweaked something; it has entered into the rich L.A. imagination very deeply. I would suspect it is very high on the list for visitors to the city. Another new development is the first suburban Chinatown. It used to be concentrated in Monterey Park. But in the last 10 years it’s spread throughout the entire San Gabriel Valley so you have this massive area of Chinese suburbanization of L.A.; dense suburbanization, high on the list for places to visit.

And another thing with these boutique hotels — I think they attract new markets, the result of suburbia disappearing. People need environments to unwind. They are also very often associated with boutique restaurants. Fusion restaurants like special hybrids.

EM: Like Jose Andres’s molecular gastronomic restaurant in the SLS Hotel.

ES: Some of these trends accomplish extraordinary things. That’s another fascinating thing about L.A. It’s not just frequently trend-setting, but it’s able, because of this stimulus of urban agglomeration, to generate extraordinary achievements. I kind of hate to talk about the Grove as an extraordinary achievement, but in a way it is.

EM: In your work on space and that of Jameson and Peter Sloterdijk, there is a consistent reference to the cosmophagic compulsion of capitalist architecture to swallow or enclose the entire world beneath one roof, to create a world within a world. Jameson refers to the Bonaventure as “a full-blown postmodern building,” which “aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city.” Likewise, Sloterdijk says of the Crystal Palace, a rubric for many of the hotel designs of the last 30 years, “nothing less was at stake than the complete absorption of the outer world into an inner space that was calculated through and through.” In other words, the hotel represents a certain capitalist desire to bring the outside world into a totalizing and marketable interiority — or a sort of domestication of the frontier, to produce a controlled and insulated simulacrum of an entire city beneath one roof.

ES: I almost want to say that it’s the opposite that happened in Los Angeles. It’s the interior that gets exteriorized. The city becomes turned inside out — as well as outside in. It’s not just this interiorization. That Sloterdijk/Jameson debate works for the Bonaventure Hotel. It doesn’t work anywhere else. Does it work for the Grove?

EM: Well, for instance, Los Angeles became an automotive economy very early on. Baudrillard, I think, talks about L.A. as a fundamentally automotive experience. Or this idea of coming in from the desert, like the Las Vegas experience — being shielded from the desert. Or the Hollywood sound stage, where everything can now be done inside or on a computer. This is a recurring trope of Los Angeles.

ES: I guess I can see that happening. But I don’t see that as the only thing. I think there is an externalization too. So much of this, though, again, is a reflection of Hollywood. And I guess my work has been sensitive to going beyond the symbolism of Hollywood. I’m suspicious of over-exaggerated interpretations that really depend upon the image of Hollywood. Sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes it isn’t.

EM: D.J. Waldie, looking back into the history of the American settlement of Los Angeles from the beginning of the land boom of the 1880s, makes an interesting discovery — the city’s various speculative settlements were yoked upon three things: the railroad, a water company…

ES: …and racism.

EM: Maybe that too. But he said a hotel. The first two are common knowledge and have since become a fundamental part of the city’s traditional identity — traffic and drought. They also serve as symbols of L.A.’s lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. Do you think the hotel has similarly attained or performs a role of contemporary excess within the city?

ES: I don’t think the railroad did anything for L.A. There was a Pacific Red Car system and a trolley system that was built in the twentieth century. The railroad connecting the city nationally during the boom of L.A. was a factor, but it had very little effect in the settlement of L.A. as the region formed into subdivisions or towns or municipalities. And everywhere in the world when the railroad connects to a city, there are hotels nearby. But the railroad doesn’t go downtown — at least until Union Station is built — it doesn’t go to the port. The railroad no longer plays any role in L.A. as part of a detailed local settlement. And water politics seems much less important than such issues as public transit, health care, racism, inequality, et cetera. I would like to see more attention given to these formative issues. With its increasing density, L.A. is becoming more compact and sustainable. The fact that it is the densest city in the United States makes it, in some ways, the most sustainable city in the county. Water is fantastically important here. But it becomes too easy to explain everything with water and the railroad. So I don’t see that combination as being a particular way into understanding L.A. It is a way to get into a kind of phenomenological localism but it doesn’t get to the bigger picture.

EM: I was going to ask you a little bit about Hollywood, but now — I’ll just ask you anyway. Hotels in Los Angeles have a very symbiotic relationship with the movie industry. Since the first Oscars were awarded at the Biltmore, there have been certain names like Roosevelt, Beverly Hills Hotel, Chateau Marmont which are now synonymous with a particular Hollywood fantasy of the celebrity-as-traveler, as existing in these very magical, transient spaces which are both highly public and highly interiorized. How do you think the movie industry has portrayed the space of the hotel throughout its history?

ES: Well, I don’t see Hollywood doing very much with hotels in Los Angeles. There are the people in the industry connected with hotels in real-life. But not in the films themselves. There aren’t many films of the Chateau Marmont. Or the Hotel Bel-Air. I guess maybe symbolically, but they rarely show it.

EM: But hotels in L.A. have become a sort of fantasy playground for Hollywood. And part of the fashionability of this city is living in these temporary, artificial spaces. There is a romantic something to this Hollywood world.

ES: And there’s also the poor, retired, barely known actors living in these seedy dingbats all over the city. So what.

EM: Well, there is something special about these places — as not just beds, not just shelters.

ES: L.A. has lots of sources of fantasy that aren’t about the hotel. But, yes, specifically, the fantasy life of Hollywood celebrities cluster around these four or five hotels.

EM: And there was a social life in these places as well.

ES: That’s definitely true of Hollywood people. But I’m trying to think of films. Did you see Los Angeles Plays Itself?

EM: Thom Andersen’s film?

ES: Yes. I just recently saw that. It talks about locations, and I guess, hotels will be part of that. But Hollywood from a political economic perspective is an agglomeration, a cluster, a specialized region, that consists not just of the filming process and location shooting — which is getting rarer — but a cloud of ancillary activities from editing to prop houses to servicing, like hotel servicing, that plays a role in this cluster that L.A. revolves around. And today Hollywood is more dominant in the economy than in most of the twentieth century in terms of employment and the regional economy. But, again, my inclination is always to go beyond Hollywood, to deeper interpretations.

EM: Let’s talk about motels then. Because that’s a very different environment.

ES: Well, you know where I go with that? I was absolutely knocked out why thousands of motels in L.A. are always filled until I discovered that tens of thousands of working poor are living in these motels because they can’t afford a down payment on an apartment. Have you heard of hot bedding?

EM: No. What is it?

ES: Hot bedding is when three families rotate a room so the bed’s never cold. Each eight-hour shift is taken by a different family. So it’s produced a density of motels in L.A. that is unusually high, in part because the population of the working poor is so large. The L.A. Times did a study several years ago and found that three hundred thousand people were living in backyard garages, often under terrible conditions. But it’s because L.A. has the equivalent of a huge third-world settlement embedded in it. You don’t really see it. There’s this invisible population here, they’re living in motels or sleeping in movie theatres or single-room-only hotels. Some of these theatres used to keep the air-conditioning on and let the homeless in after 12, like little hotels I guess. They used to charge like 25 cents and a homeless person could go in and sleep in an air-conditioned theatre with these old films playing. We’re talking about a huge population, perhaps as much as 40 percent of two to three million people who are packed into this downtown, where you have the most overcrowded housing in the United States.

EM: While postmodern high-rises like the Bonaventure have to come represent the Foucauldian dispositif, architectonic spaces of control, the Panopticon, etc. in the increasingly Balkanized urban center, I’m intrigued by the opposite effect often produced in the outlying motel, perhaps as the antithesis of this order, represented as a “dangerous” space precisely because it fails to self-police or regiment its inhabitants. Or perhaps because it strays closer to the world of the everyday.

ES: I see that as an interpretation coming from all the spaces and places of the city. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hotels. It does get into all these forms of social control, surveillance, feeling lost. You mention the everyday and I immediately think of Henri Lefebvre, who argued that everyday life must be engaged in some kind of dialectic with large-scale urban theory. And that if you dwell exclusively on the everyday you lose contact with the framing process. I guess I always felt my skills were honed for the bigger picture. And I can go from the big picture down to the everyday but I don’t feel comfortable dwelling on the everyday and then building up to the bigger picture.

EM: Well it seems to me that that’s a very French sensibility, all the way to the Symbolist poets like Mallarmé.

ES: Yes, and Lefebvre draws from Breton and becomes the twentieth century theorist of la vie quotidienne. The insignificant is significant, that kind of argument.

EM: Well, do you see la vie quotidienne as having some conceptual link to the motel as an alternative form of dwelling? Bruce Bégout says the motel in this sense of everydayness provides guests with both a sense of nomadism and anonymity. In this narrative fantasy of the social underbelly or noir, motels are seen as transient and seductive spaces, hosting sexual trysts, suicides, drug purchases, and other illicit activities.

ES: I guess if you’re asking me whether I can see a connection, I can, but I don’t think it’s something I’d want to emphasize. I have enough problems with this concept of dwelling. I think you can make connections with the hotels and motels of the city when you add transience into the equation. But these bloody architects go crazy with dwelling and Heidegger, in part because they are so obsessed with buildings.

EM: I’m glad I didn’t bring up Heidegger yet.

ES: He is such a bête noir for me. Heidegger is the ultimate codifier of historicism, of anti-spatial theory. Yes, Heidegger’s work is an important influence on Lefebvre and in a way Lefebvre is kind of the Heidegger of French critical theory, but Lefebvre was a very explicit anti-historicist who promoted a strong spatial perspective. He argued that space is as important as time. Yes, dwelling was what the late Heidegger flirted with when he did ask questions about space, and he would eventually say that space is important, but not as important as time. Space is subordinated to time. In contrast, Lefebvre was dedicated to expanding the project of critical spatial thinking so that it would compete with critical historical thinking, because critical historical thinking is so extraordinarily powerful, overshadowing everything else. There has to be some sort of balance between the two. And I believe the only two writers who have had the explicit project of trying to expand our understanding of space to the point where it can equal a historicist’s perspective are Lefebvre and Foucault. Since the late nineteenth century, it’s been the historicists who seem to have the key to understanding human society. As for hotels, I can see appreciating or using them to crystallize a larger kind of argument, using them as almost a Proustian madeleine to expand into all kinds of thoughts and ideas, as a key to opening up a host of other literary connections.



Thom Andersen is a professor of film studies at CalArts. His encyclopedic documentary of Los Angeles’s role in cinema, Los Angeles Plays Itself, is now considered a cult classic.

Erik Morse: Do you see the hotel ‘space’ of Los Angeles as somehow relatable to the history of the Hollywood sound stage? Do you think there is a phenomenon of ‘being-glassed-in’ that runs throughout L.A. history as a result?

Thom Anderson: Even more than New York, Los Angeles has a number of distinctive hotels which can support an entire movie: the Beverly Hills (Designing WomanCalifornia Suite), the Beverly Wilshire (Pretty Woman, Into the Night), the Ambassador (Bobby, The Thirteenth Floor), the Chateau Marmont (Four Rooms, Somewhere), not to mention the Bonaventure, which has had many supporting roles in movies and at least one starring role, in Nick of Time.

I would note that this is also the argument of Mark Shiel in his book Hollywood Cinema and the Real Los Angeles. He notes that Los Angeles studios pioneered glass wall construction in the 1910s before modern architects proposed it. Of course, these buildings didn't last with the conversion to sound.

EM: Why do you think so many modern horror films are set in hotels and other transient places?

TA: I don't see many horror films these days, but I do keep up with Lynch movies, of course. I think he just likes corridors. Much could be written about that, but for me it suffices to say, why not?

EM: What is it about the cinematic aura of the Bonaventure Hotel that continues to intrigue and fascinate so many years later?

TA: Portman's architecture is still inimitable, and the Bonaventure is a great building. But it never became architecturally respectable. Somehow when Gehry constructs postmodern buildings, it's good, but when Portman does it, it's bad.

It is true that Fredric Jameson came to an academic conference at the Bonaventure, got lost in the lobby, and thus discovered post-modernism.

EM: How important is the design of the motel in understanding the expansion of highway and car culture as a separate cultural experience from the urban?

TA: In movies, the motel is a place to hide out. I think of its design as rural, not suburban, although it derives partly from the garden court apartment, which may be regarded as a suburban form. Maybe it's worth thinking about the fact that the contemporary drive-thru restaurant is a motel in negative form.

EM: You mentioned to me that you were more of a motel than a hotel person. What does that mean?

TA: When I was young, we could never afford to stay in hotels. That's a pretty simple cultural division.

EM: Is part of the magic of Los Angeles that we are all in some sense tourists here?

TA: I like tourists. That's why I used to enjoy hanging out at Farmers' Market when I lived in the neighborhood, pre-Grove. We have a great tourism problem so long as we encourage people to visit Universal City or Disneyland. These are centers of torture (unless your idea of a good time is standing in lines all day). We might instead be offering tours of the Hollywood Sign and presenting light shows there at night, as on January 1, 2000. If the neighbors object, as they will, we can buy up their property under eminent domain.

EM: Do you think of the hotel as an empty space? Do you think of Los Angeles as being an empty space?

TA: New York has an empty center (it's called Central Park), but it's not true of Los Angeles. Its problem as a city is precisely that it has a single center, a downtown that hasn't shifted since the late nineteenth century, a center for government, commerce, retail shops, and entertainment. Most great cities have many centers, which shift over time. The only other city I can think of with a single center is Vienna because of the Ring.

The idea of the hotel as placeless, like an airport, is fairly new, and these ways of thinking about airports and hotels come from the development of mass air travel. The golden age of air travel was the period when almost no one could afford to fly, and the great era of the hotel was the time when the hotel's clientele was exclusively bourgeois (see Grand Hotel). So this notion of placeless places is essentially just snobbery. Today, though, there are airport connoisseurs, and they have a point. Airports are no more alike than red wines.

I agree with Rem Koolhaas: a hotel is not only a place, but a city in itself.


LARB Contributor

Erik Morse is the author of Dreamweapon and Bluff City Underground: A Roman Noir of the Deep South, and contributor to The New York Times, Vogue, Artforum, Art-Agenda, Sight & Sound, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Guardian, among others. He is also an Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer grantee, a former lecturer at SCI-Arc, and a contributor to Semiotext(e). He has just completed his third book.


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