If the walls of Chateau Marmont could speak, they would tell you a story. It starts like this:
Up ahead in the distance I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim.
I had to stop for the night.
(“Hotel California” by The Eagles)
Even without the shimmering light, Chateau Marmont stands out from other buildings located in Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. Fred Horowitz – a lawyer, who was amazed by the castles by the Loire – wanted to build an exclusive mansion in Hollywood, that would look similar to the Château at Amboise. He commissioned his brother-in-law, architect Arnold A. Weitzman, to design the building.
The luxury apartment building located near Marmont Lane was officially opened on 1 February 1929. Each of 63 apartments had a bathroom and a kitchen, so had the bungalows placed nearby the main building. It was supposed to be called Chateau Sunset or Chateau Hollywood. Luckily, there was this little street Marmont Lane going just outside the building, so today we can twist our tongues on this French sounding name. A nice one, I’d add. At that time, no one thought that some decades later the elegant interiors would see crazy hippies riding their motorbikes. But before that, Horowitz was struck by the crisis. He had to sell his house and turn Chateau Marmont into a hotel. This place would experience some extraordinary things.
Orgy with 50 women
No earthquake did any damage to the hotel or its guests and residents. Nearby buildings were destroyed in 1933, 1953, 1971, 1987 and 1994. Marmont stood strong, even when Jim Morrison was hanging from one of its balconies.
As early as in the 1930s, the hotel hosted Greta Garbo. Even though it was not the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles, it ensured discretion and was known for its patient staff. Paparazzi were not let inside and you’re not allowed to ask stars for autographs – this may result in you being asked to leave. Stars’ whims are not publicly discussed, so the celebrities can feel safe. What’s more, there are no rules concerning the number of people that can be invited to the private parties. No one will check whether you took five or fifty people from the underground garage to your room. In Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, the main character – blasé star Johnny Marco (played by the amazing Stephen Dorff) – comes back to his apartment in the middle of a party thrown without his knowledge, meeting lots of people he doesn’t even know. During the shooting of Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper had an orgy with 50 women. The participants were supplied with cocaine and the whole thing was filmed. Smashing! By the way, you can get pretty smashed just by walking through the corridor and inhaling the smoke that comes out of the rooms through the keyholes. At least that’s what Roman Polański said. He lived in the “castle” with his wife Sharon Tate before the couple moved to Cielo Drive, where Sharon was murdered.
30s and 40s film star Errol Flynn went there with each of his three wives, as well as his mistress, Marlene Dietrich. Clark Gable was visited by Jean Harlow, who was spending her honeymoon with Chuck McGrew one floor below. The beautiful Jean hung a “went fishing” sign on her door and fled to Sunset Strip to look for even younger companions. Billy Wilder used to say – “I would rather sleep in a bathroom there than at any other hotel”. His film partner Marilyn Monroe stayed there from time to time, so did Bertolt Brecht, Humphrey Bogart, Rudolph Valentino and Hedy Lamarr. The beautiful Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner dropped by to visit Howard Hughes, who was living in the top floor penthouse. He had a perfect view on the ladies sunbathing by the pool. In Coppola’s film, those ladies did not hesitate to pose topless on their balconies. Who would forbid them? In Chateau Marmont – no one. Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, famously advised his hot-blooded starlets: “If you are going to behave badly, be sure to do so in the Chateau Marmont.”
The underage Natalie Wood ended up in bed with Nicholas Ray, the director of Rebel Without a Cause, during the casting for the film. The script for it was written by Stewart Stern while he was residing in the “castle” Marmont. James Dean showed up at the same casting entering through a window. It’s said that it was in Chateau Marmont that the 19-year old Scarlett Johansson fulfilled her dream of having sex in a cramped elevator, with Benicio del Toro partnering her. Johnny Depp first met Winona Ryder at the Marmont. He admitted having sex with her in one of the “castle’s” rooms. Still, Kate Moss is said to have been even more adventurous. Together with Depp they supposedly visited every apartment.
Small pool with doggies
Nowadays, a night at the Chateau Marmont costs up to $650. In the 60s, one could kip down for a lot less. Good location and discrete staff attracted interesting guests. Apart from Jim Morrison, who liked to mix Jack Daniels and LSD, one could meet Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, John Lennon with Yoko Ono, and Mick Jagger. It’s said that no one complained when members of Led Zeppelin were riding motorbikes in the corridor. Even guests who swim in a tiny pool with their dogs are not reprimanded. Norfolk Terrier owned by Lady Victoria Hervey likes to bathe in the company of Kirsten Dunst’s Alsatian. And what goes on in the bungalows located near the main building? No one knows. They often have separate entries and their residents have their own keys to the castle.
Paparazzi have virtually no chance of getting in. Rock fans surely have no clue about many spicy stories. Unless someone crosses the line… In 1982, John Belushi, who was living on and off in Chateau Marmont, was visited by his pals – Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. John did not survive the party. It was also there that a famous fashion photographer, Helmut Newton, lost his life. While driving up to the hotel (he used to stay there whenever he was in Los Angeles), he lost control over his vehicle and hit the hotel wall.
Nowadays, Chateau hosts stars like Nicole Kidman, Courtney Love, Uma Thurman, Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio. Just recently Keanu Reeves has moved out. There’s one line that cannot be crossed and it’s not paying the bill. This may cost you being asked to leave the hotel. This happened, among others, to John Frusciante. Britney Spears is also blacklisted. She smeared some food from the hotel restaurant over her face. That didn’t go well with the other guests.
Silence is golden
In 1993, the place was bought by Andre Balazs, who believed in the power of this legendary spot. Chateau Marmont was renovated and its standard improved. The prices also went up. Balazs claimed that low prices attracted problematic clients. Gothic lobby remained untouched, so did the overall art deco décor. There was also a book published, called Hollywood Handbook: Chateau Marmont, that tells a story of the castle. But it disappointed all those who were hoping to read some spicy bits. Balazs knows very well that the main thing drawing people there is discretion. All that happens in Chateau Marmont apartments, stays within the walls of the castle. And the walls remain silent.
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year
You can find it here.