Hollywood’s most scandalous hotel – Chateau Marmont
If only walls could talk, the Chateau Marmont’s would have some pretty interesting stories to tell…December 24, 2014
John Belushi was only 32 when he died in Bungalow 3 of the Chateau Marmont, yet he was already an icon of American TV and film. His death signaled the end of a generation for many, but for the hotel in which his body was found however, it was all just part of the show.
The Chateau – as those within certain circles know it – is perched imperiously on Marmont Lane and Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. It’s unlike any hotel in the world.
Through the golden age of cinema to the Beat Generation writers like Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, to the gonzo-madness of Hunter S. Thompson and beyond, it’s a little difficult to know where to start when discussing the happenings here, so stained are its walls with unalloyed Hollywood legend. It’s probably fitting that it was designed to be earthquake proof, and whilst it came unscathed through major seismic activity between 1933 and 1994 thanks to it’s solid rock foundations, it was almost brought to it’s knees on several occasions by guests and their often drug-fuelled lifestyles. As Harold Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures put it, “If you’re going to get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.”
The walls and gardens concealed the celebrities within, and more importantly, what they were doing. It turns out they were doing quite a lot
Built in 1927 and modelled loosely on the awe-inspiring Chateau d’Amboise in France’s Loire Valley, it’s not exactly clear when it’s reputation for A-list bad behaviour began. It was originally planned as an apartment house, but in 1920’s depression-hit America, nobody could afford the high prices - not even those in the much-vaunted Hollywood Hills. In 1931 the owners changed tact, and it became a hotel.
From it’s inception it became a Hollywood hangout, and although they couldn’t escape the area, the walls and gardens of the Chateau concealed the celebrities within, and more importantly, what they were doing. It turns out they were doing quite a lot. This is were Robert De Niro lived in the penthouse for two years, where Jean Harlow carried out her affair with Clark Gable on her honeymoon, where Jim Morrison from The Doors used up what he called, “the eighth of his nine lives,” after he was left dangling from a drainpipe attempting to swing from the roof to his bedroom window. It’s the hotel that The Eagles were talking about in the song Hotel California.
Of course, celebrity bad behavior isn’t anything new. Indeed they’ve always had their hangouts. The Chelsea Hotel in New York has attained similarly iconic status, thanks to its long-term celebrity guests and harrowing side stories – this is where Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious allegedly murdered his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, after all. But where the Chateau trumps it is that this is real 1930’s luxury. It’s a throwback to Hollywood’s glory days and as such, a fitting place for one to do something outrageous.
Luxury aside, the Chateau is built for mischief. Dark nooks and crannies offer the type of anonymity a celebrity craves, whilst the general layout makes any bad behavior difficult for the management to monitor. Usually, the reception is central to life in a hotel. In the Chateau, guests can take the lift straight from the underground car park to their rooms. There’s even a persistent rumour that claims that there’s a tunnel underneath the Chateau that runs to Preston Sturges' 1940’s nightclub, Players, allowing guests to come and go without note. Perhaps it’s notoriety lies in the fact that many other famous Hollywood hangouts, like the Trocadero, the Mocambo, and Schwab’s are no longer around. It piles all the celebrity pressure on to the Chateau; and that’s some considerable weight.
When ownership passed to Hotels AB in 1990 and the hotelier Andre Balazs, it was not in a good place. The orange shag rugs looked like they were being held together by duct tape. “It felt like a very neglected soul,” commented Balazs.
But how do you renovate an icon? It would be like asking somebody to try and modernise the Empire State Building. Despite outrage from many regular guests, Balazs hired set designers to buy items from thrift stores that would not look out of place. It was about creating a design that felt like it had always been there. Now, 85 years on from its creation as a hotel, the Chateau is still the place that the hipster hangs out. Writers sell scripts, agents meet actors, celebrities are as likely to stagger past as any bellboy or waiter. All things considered, it’s the perfect place to do a spot of people watching, the key is to remember not to stare.
Whatever your reason for being there, one visit is enough to stay with you for a lifetime. As The Eagles so memorably sang, you can check-out any time like, but you can never leave.
Details: visit chateaumarmont.com