March 09, 2017

Photo Essay: The Hotel Californian Neon Comes Back Home

It was the kind of day that probably nobody ever thought would come.

The Hotel Californian in Westlake by MacArthur Park had become such a blight on the neighborhood—reportedly full of discarded couches, ironing boards, and other detritus after suffering multiple fires—that it was torn down in 1995, three years after the LA riots.

There had been two neon signs advertising the place on its roof—one facing eastward and the other facing westward—but they'd both gone dark in the wake of World War II, as the rest of LA's neon did.

And only one of them made it to the scrap heap, placed oddly in a disembodied section of Griffith Park between Los Feliz Boulevard and Riverside Drive.

It had been fenced off, but that didn't keep the vandals and other miscreants out, leaving the poor thing in shambles and at the cusp of the point of no return.

Once upon a time, it would've been junked. But LA has a few kindred spirits who are guardian angels for neon signs in distress. And this one—by some providence—got saved.

Of course, there was no raising the Hotel Californian from the dead. The building—built in 1924, when Westlake was quite posh, and just before neon became incredibly popular—was long gone.

But a new, affordable housing complex has risen up in its place—somehow seamlessly integrating with the neighborhood with a classic Spanish Revival architectural style that you'd find having been built in Southern California after the San Diego-Panama Exposition of 1917.

The new building is called "The Paseo at Californian," but its legacy can't be denied.

Today I had the opportunity to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, though its residents have already moved in.

It was as much a celebration of the electrification of the neon sign as it was of the building itself...

...which is really quite lovely!

But the thing that brought me to Westlake today was that neon sign...

...whose metalwork was restored, glass tubing reinstalled, and noble gasses replaced in a nearly impossible project by neon conservator and historian Paul Greenstein.

He also returned it to its original "creamsicle" color.

And now it stands mounted, once again, on a rooftop at the corner of 6th and Bonnie Brae. (Although, this time it's by itself, the other one rumored to have found a forever home with a celebrity.)

It's actually been up there since May of last year. But it's only now that it's ready to glow again. And now that it does, it's one of the oldest working neon signs in LA!

Welcome back, baby.

Further Reading:
Sign of the Times: The Strange Fortune of the Hotel Californian (KCET)

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Iconic Hotel Normandie
Photo Essay: The Collection of the Museum of Neon Art, In Storage
Photo Essay: Hope for MacArthur Park

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