Why Frank Gehry's New LA Hotel Will Change the City Forever

The 305-room Conrad Los Angeles is part of Gehry's Grand LA development

Conrad Los Angeles

Courtesy of Conrad Los Angeles

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Conrad Los Angeles

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100 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Phone +1 213-349-8585

In 2003, famed architect Frank Gehry forever altered the downtown Los Angeles skyline when his metallic masterpiece, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, was unveiled. Now, he has done it again with The Grand LA, a $1-billion mixed-use complex anchored by the West Coast's first Conrad Hotel and a 45-story apartment tower.

"Together with the Hollywood sign, [Disney Hall] is the icon of our city," Mayor Eric Garcetti said at last week's ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 305-room Conrad Los Angeles. "[The Grand LA] is the completion of this place. We now have a new creative heart in the cultural capital of the world."

The two eye-catching projects sit across the street from one another in the cultural corridor that's also home to The Broad, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Music Center, Grand Park, and the Colburn School, creating the first place in the world where two Frank Gehry projects face one another, Adam Heffron, the Conrad LA's general manager, told TripSavvy. "When you stand in the center of Grand LA, what we call the Urban Room, you can take in all that he's built and get inside the mind of Frank Gehry to a degree."

Gehry, at first, passed on designing such a massive commercial endeavor, which will eventually see the addition of several floors worth of retail and restaurants, but later told the Los Angeles Times he is glad he caved because "now Disney has context; it becomes part of something."

"For me, it all fits now. Disney Hall doesn't look like an outlier," the 93-year-old Angeleno explained. "I was very interested in making an ensemble with [The Grand LA] and making a public space that we don't have on the other side. For everybody, not just for fancy people. You can just wander in, have a seat, get a coffee, and be part of it."

Conrad Los Angeles guestroom

Courtesy of Conrad Los Angeles

Heffron does not take Conrad's part in the design legend's directive lightly. "It's a huge responsibility to deliver a hotel in a Frank Gehry building because the expectation of the architecture is so great," he said. "We know visitors come just to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall, sometimes not even to go inside but to look at it. Our building will be no different, so we have to deliver a product that, when they do come inside or stay here, they recognize it is a world-class operation."

Meeting that goal began with a knockout interior design, handled from top to bottom by London-based Tara Bernerd & Partners. Bernerd took cues from Gehry's exterior, Conrad's established luxury level, the West Coast modernist movement's holistic and nature-inspired design philosophies, and the varied materiality of downtown and its culture to fulfill what she called "the most magnificent assignment."

"It was pivotal to create a unique DNA. Each space has been given such care and attention and is unique but related to the other," Bernerd, who landed the gig in 2017, told TripSavvy. "This began with absorbing the architecture and materiality of downtown and is reflected in the materials used throughout. We sought to create interesting spaces and vistas, bringing texture and seeking to exude a handsome warmth through the furniture and fabric choices."

The result is a sophisticated mash-up of colors—pale neutrals, cool blues, pops of mustard yellow, and mossy green—juxtaposed with patterns and unique materials, like polished concrete, textured Ceppo di Gré stone, rope linen, and warm woods. The space also makes use of bold works by area artists like Mimi Jung, Ben Medansky, and Brian Wills, and has several "wow" factors like an arrival bar made out of 11,000-year-old polished and glazed molten lava.

"It was important that the interior design held its own but responded to Gehry's stunning architecture and ultimately melded into the project," Bernerd said. "I think the project represents an urban resort and a first of its kind, certainly in downtown L.A., and will bring a new dimension and flavor to Grand Avenue."

The plush rooms consist of a whopping 47 unique architectural configurations organized into 27 room types—a nod to Gehry's trademark whimsy and refusal to be boxed into linear shapes. They range in size from 348 to 1,633 square feet and include stunning corner units with two balconies and freestanding tubs, rooms with features like braille numbers, visual alarms, and roll-in showers to make them more accessible to guests with hearing, vision, or mobility concerns, and three presidential suites.

Heffron points out that one of the building's best qualities is that there are no bad views. "No matter which direction you're facing, there's something really fascinating to see," he said. "On First Street, you get Dodger Stadium and the San Gabriel Mountains. On Grand, there's Disney Hall and the Hollywood Sign. Another side has City Hall, the courthouse, the Sixth Street viaduct, and the new bridge. Los Angeles is impressive when you take a moment to take it in."

While a hotel was planned for the site from the beginning, a few tweaks had to be made once Hilton signed on to manage the property.

"This would have been very much a lifestyle hotel had Hilton not become involved," Heffron said. "We added two additional presidential suites, understanding that the luxury traveler needs to have more expansive options." Hilton's involvement also meant more technology in the rooms, allowing members of the brand's loyalty program to use an app for everything from check-in and room selection to streaming Netflix and adjusting temperature controls.

Los Angeles is impressive when you take a moment to take it in.

Another partner in the hotel will be an equally big draw—revered chef José Andrés and his ThinkFoodGroup have been tapped for the hotel's food and beverage program.

San Laurel, which overlooks Disney Hall, is the standout, serving breakfast and dinner rooted in Spanish cuisine but highlights California's abundant produce and other local ingredients. Notable dishes include a rack of lamb, grilled romaine with manchego espuma, lobster salpicón, and roasted celeriac carpaccio.

Meanwhile, the alfresco rooftop, Agua Viva, is a casual lunch concept that intends to win over diners with Latin and Asian flavors, shared plates, panoramic views, and refreshing cocktails. Not to be missed are the chef's signature Txule ribeye burger, crab croquetas, and DIY handrolls.

Andrés, who will also open another restaurant in The Grand LA's central section, is handling poolside F&B, too—think skewers, punch bowls, and house-made push pops—through Airlight. There's also a bar, SED, for serious drinkers, offering showy craft cocktails heavy on technique and seasonal produce inspired by Andrés's world travels.

"If you were trying to achieve three Michelin stars through just drinks, SED is where you would go. The cocktails are intricate and theatrical," Heffron said, adding that the bigger lobby bar is more traditional. "There's a take on a Mai Tai that comes out in a chest with dry ice and smoke that's all over Instagram already."

San Laurel

Courtesy of Conrad Los Angeles

Another standout feature is the decadent and cutting-edge 7,000-square-foot spa, with seven treatment rooms, a co-ed enlightenment lounge, an infrared sauna, a Gharieni Welnamis wavetable, and individual recovery pods where patrons can utilize restorative gadgets like PEMF mats, compression boots, and crystal-embedded LED face masks. Celebrity esthetician Angela Caglia, who treats the likes of Barbra Streisand and Helena Christensen, personally trained spa staff in the products and techniques.

As much of a milestone as it is for Gehry and the city, it was also a huge day to celebrate for Conrad as its 44th property worldwide marks the brand's first on the West Coast. For Hilton, this opening makes L.A. only the second U.S. city in which all three luxury lines—Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, and LXR Hotels & Resorts—are represented. (For you travel trivia buffs, the other is Las Vegas.)

"Conrad, as a brand, is intentional about being featured in major tier-one cities, so Los Angeles is a natural fit. As a luxury brand, you must have a presence in L.A. to be taken seriously globally," Heffron says. "Los Angeles, in particular, was a very important part of the country for us to debut in, but downtown Los Angeles is even more so as it allows for a level of culture, arts, food, and maybe grittiness that feels very authentic and very Conrad."

His sentiments were echoed by Dino Michael, senior vice president and global category head for Hilton luxury brands, at the grand opening. "I couldn't be prouder of finally having a West Coast flagship for the brand. It truly captures the essence of Conrad," he said.

The hotel and its development have already had a positive impact on the community as well. Heffron shared that the developer, Related Companies, worked hard to keep construction going throughout the pandemic and set aside 20 percent of the residential units as subsidized low-income housing. He added that Conrad has continued that commitment by forming a team that is currently 55 percent Angeleno, with 38 percent culled from surrounding at-risk communities who haven't held hospitality jobs before.

Rooms start at $750 per night. Hilton is offering 25 percent off through Aug. 31 when you book through Hilton.com or by calling 888-728-3029. Some blackout dates and restrictions apply.

Article Sources
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  1. The Music Center. "The Music Center's Walt Disney Concert Hall." Accessed July 19, 2022.

  2. Los Angeles Times. "Inside Frank Gehry's Latest Los Angles Mega-Project." June 30, 2022.

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Why Frank Gehry's New LA Hotel Will Change the City Forever