With the restoration of The Georgian (one of the World's Best New Hotels), Los Angeles reclaims an icon from its glory days. Fathom editor California Chaney checks in.
SANTA MONICA — Growing up in Los Angeles in the mid '90s, I was constantly reminded that I had missed the glory days of California living. When the Beach Boys were riding the iconic waves of Malibu's Surfrider break while blonde babes swooned from the beach. When the Sunset Strip bred bands like The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Doors. When Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin sipped martinis and listened to jazz on their days off screen. The bones of LA's infamous frontier of fame remain in landmarks like the Hollywood Sign (celebrating its 100th birthday this year) — glistening up the hills as a mirage of a bygone era whose sun has set.
I lived along the Pacific Coast Highway, and the landmark that was always a fantasy of my imagination was The Georgian, the vibrant, turquoise Period Revival-meets-Art Deco oceanfront hotel that opened in 1933. While I had never stepped through its doors, I would get excited to whiz past it from the back seat of my parents' car, envisioning a mermaid Barbie who lived here, in her beachside castle. (Fortunately, I didn't miss Barbie's heyday.
In reality, The Georgian was the dream-come-true of renowned Californian hotelier Rosamond Borde, who commissioned celebrated architect M. Eugene Durfee to design an oceanfront hotel of grand proportions. Nicknamed the First Lady of Santa Monica, it quickly became an exclusive destination where Hollywood's who's who escaped the limelight to drink Champagne until the sun rose over the sea. By the 1960s, as the Golden Age of Hollywood had begun its decline, so too the hotel, as several changes in ownership transformed the hotel into apartments and senior living facilities. Yet the iconic facade and Mrs. Borde's dream remained — still another mirage of the city's infamous yesteryears.
Fast forward to 2023, when the happy news broke that the iconic hotel would finally reopening under new ownership of BLVD Hospitality, the real estate investment and development group who transformed Downtown LA's hotel scene with the Ace, Hoxton, and Soho Warehouse. The team partnered with Fettle Design and spent two years lovingly restoring the property to its former glory. The doors opened in April of this year, creating waves in Santa Monica that its First Lady was back. I immediately accepted the invitation to be among the first to visit and experience the property. My inner child was finally going to live in Barbie's mermaid castle!
Even though I practically learned to walk along Ocean Avenue, I had butterflies entering The Georgian for the first time. The scent of peach hibiscus hit my senses as I was greeted at my car by a bellhop dressed in a tassel-adorned, baby-blue suit with a matching hat. There was a sense of magic in the air — I felt as though I had blinked and time traveled back to 1933. I decided not to question this near-hallucinogenic sensation and waltzed up to the navy-striped awning through the arched doorway into the lobby. Martinis clinked from the lobby's horseshoe shaped Sunset Bar, flanked by pink ostrich feathers and velvet banquettes. A welcome glass of Champagne was placed in my hand as I was escorted to a check-in desk dressed in quirky, Wes Anderson flair. Clearly, a sense of playfulness and joy had never left the building.
The Art Deco style continues upstairs in 84 rooms and 28 one-bedroom suites, many with Pacific views sweeping from Catalina Island to Malibu. It's easy to fall in love with the arched doorways, bright bed frames, and (of course) views of the sparkling sea, but I swooned over the thoughtful Polaroid camera on a side table and — super charming! — vintage buttons embedded into the minibar labeled "Champagne," "Dessert," "Book Club," and "The Usual." When I pressed the first two, a bar cart of ice-chilled Champagne and sweets was delivered to my door. (Oh, to be enough of a regular that the bartenders know what my usual is...) After watching the sunset from my room, I dressed in pink Italian silk trousers and a swipe of red lipstick (as it felt so fitting in this atmosphere) and made my way downstairs for dinner at the Sunset Terrace. A sea breeze wafts throughout the indoor-outdoor restaurant and its bright yellow booths and cozy two-top tables (a perfect setting for a date). On Sundays, chef David Almany serves a pre-fixe spaghetti feast with housemade garlic bread, Italian meatballs, and large pours of wine.
After dinner, guests are invited downstairs to experience another revival of the Tinseltown golden age, the Georgian Room, whose doors have reopened for the first time in sixty years. The speakeasy-style bar and Italian steakhouse had been the underground playground for Clarke Gable and his ilk. The setting is a dazzler: L-shaped booths face a 1918 ebony-polished Steinway & Sons piano built into an Italian Quartzite bar. The BLVD team meticulously restored the space from vintage photos, including the custom carpet of a mermaid sipping a martini. (She does live here!) The space is open Thursday through Sunday with late-night performances around the piano and an anything-goes atmosphere upheld by one excellent rule: absolutely no photos (a sticker is even placed on your camera upon entering). You happily oblige as it all feels part of your role in the screenplay. Sipping martinis in the same booth as Hollywood's silver screen stars with no pings or intrusions from the modern world was an ultimate escape.
With The Georgian's return to its rightful place as the jewel of the California coastline, a new chapter of the California dream begins. While I arrived expecting to relish and long for what I imagined were the hotel's legendary 1930s days, I was happily proven wrong, because the best days are yet to come. Next summer, a forthcoming outdoor pool and lounge will open along Ocean Avenue, further fulfilling Mrs. Borde's vision of creating a seaside escape in the grandest proportions. I can't wait to dive in.