(Entrepreneur) – Hotel Figueroa has seen many lives since opening in 1926 as a safe haven for women travelers. For almost 100 years, the historic building in downtown Los Angeles — with its distinctive Italian Renaissance exterior and Spanish Colonial interior — has served as a communal space for artists and writers, a focal point for social activism and, of course, a gathering place for the Hollywood elite. That’s why Bradley Hall, the hotel’s co-owner, sees himself merely as a steward of this living piece of history. “Hotel Figueroa was here long before us,” he tells Entrepreneur, “and it’s our obligation to make sure it’s here long after us.”
To achieve his goal, Hall and his team aren’t chasing the latest hospitality trends; instead, they’re looking back into the hotel’s storied past for inspiration. After undergoing a massive two-year restoration, Hotel Figueroa re-opened in 2018 in all its Roaring Twenties splendor in a part of town, Downtown L.A., that has become one of the city’s trendiest. “The physical restoration is only a piece of the story,” he says. “Its rich history and the artistic energy it holds is as — if not more — important.”
Their approach is working so far, as the hotel was recently named one of the World’s Best by Travel & Leisure, with similar accolades bestowed by Conde Nast Traveler and CNN Travel. How is Hall’s team channeling that history and energy, exactly? We spoke with him to find out.
Hotel Figueroa is an almost 100-year-old property. What’s your favorite moment from its history?
Clearly, its beginning. In fact, the story served as our inspiration for the hotel’s rebirth and restoration. Hotel Figueroa’s history is deeply rooted in the women’s movement in Los Angeles. The hotel was built in 1926 by the women of the YWCA. It was conceived, financed, built, owned and operated by women, for women. At the time, it was the largest single investment made by women in the United States for the amount of $1.25 million. These women were strong, progressive, independent and courageous. It was also the largest hotel of its kind managed by the country’s first-ever female managing director, the inimitable Maude Bouldin. Under her leadership, Hotel Figueroa quickly became a mecca for progressive, independent women — a place of great social, intellectual and artistic consciousness.
How do you keep that spirit alive in the hotel’s current incarnation?
Everything about Maude Bouldin is simply astounding. A pioneering aviatrix, she flew her own plane from the east coast to west coast. Rode motorcycles and raced men in motorcars — because she knew she could beat them. She had a personality all her own, a woman of character, strength and independence. Today, Maude greets you in the lobby astride a motorcycle in a crimson painting by critically acclaimed artist Alison van Pelt. In addition, as a tribute to the original founding women’s support of the early art community in Los Angeles, we have assembled an art collection of L.A.-based female artists. On the lighter side of things, we also host a monthly all-female comedy night at the hotel — which is a riot — showcasing the talents of some incredibly clever, bright and humorous ladies.
What’s the biggest challenge of operating such an old property?
Telling its story authentically and maintaining the character and integrity of a property which houses such a rich and nuanced history. We use multiple media to tell the story — clips in the guest room TVs, our website, hardcopy collateral and tours by the staff. When people finally learn of its past, they always say, “You need to tell its story.” We also have 42 different room sizes, so from an operational standpoint — maintenance of the furniture, fixtures and equipment — it can be a bit of a challenge, but the hotel team does a fantastic job keeping it all perfect.
Tell us about the hotel’s recent restoration.
We acquired the property in July 2014 and closed the hotel and begun construction in December 2015. Although not originally planned, we ended up completely demolishing the entire interior on all 13 floors and then reconstructing it back to its original look and feel.
What are your favorite details about the hotel? Is there really a room hidden behind a bookshelf in one of the suites?
Yes, Casbah! Our “secret” space tucked behind a bookshelf within our Casablanca Luxury Suite. The secret room is a lot of fun. It is behind a bookshelf in one of our suites and opens up into a luxurious room with antique mirrored walls and ceiling. It also connects to its own private speakeasy bar, Bar Alta — one of the most unique suite experiences in the world.
What lessons can entrepreneurs outside the hospitality industry learn from your experiences keeping Hotel Figueroa relevant?
It is all about teamwork and a shared vision — one cannot accomplish it alone. Set the vision and lead by example with purpose, passion and commitment. There are countless individuals who have lent their time and expertise to the restoration of this property and, as they say, a rising tide raises all ships. In the case of Hotel Figueroa, we’ve all been pleasantly surprised by how much you can learn from history that still holds true in present day. Oftentimes, looking backward to the past leads to forging the path ahead.