The neoclassical Bank of Italy building in Los Angeles had seen better days when it was snapped up by New York-based hotel group Sydell in 2015. Interest in the renovation of the 1923-built structure peaked, however, when it was announced that the then-derelict downtown affair would become the site of the NoMad Los Angeles – a bright and airy sister to the brand’s swanky Manhattan property which opened in 2012.
Parisian designer Jacques Garcia (whose credits include masterful renovations of Marrakech’s La Mamounia hotel and the NoMad New York) has given the interior the aura of an old European resort but without the stodginess. The palette of velvets, distressed leather and bright floral brocades lends a playfulness to the polish and creates a well-judged line between sunshine and noir. In fact, author Raymond Chandler toiled in this very building for most of the 1920s during his days as an oil executive. Chandler, after being fired, would go on to create Philip Marlowe, the city’s most famous hard-boiled private detective. And it’s not hard to imagine the trench-coated sleuth with a drink in the hotel lobby’s Giannini Bar.
Reviving old buildings is something of a Sydell Group speciality; last summer, the group opened the Los Angeles Freehand hotel in a restored beaux-arts building a block away from the NoMad in the financial district. And 2018 is shaping up to be something of a banner year for group founder and ceo Andrew Zobler and partner Ron Burkle. In January they opened the NoMad Los Angeles, the Freehand New York and the Line DC. A Line-branded hotel in Austin and a third NoMad in Las Vegas (in partnership with Park mgm) will open later in the year.
But back to the hotel at hand. The palatial Bank of Italy building was designed by Morgan, Walls & Clements replete with columns and marble floors. The architects – who also designed the Mayan, El Capitan and Wiltern theatres – helped shape the look of the growing city in the early 20th century.
“When you approach the building, you notice that it’s a typical neoclassical façade,” says Zobler. “There’s no real wink or nod that what you’re going to see inside is very Italian. You come in and see this ceiling and, to me, that’s the big inspiration for this project.” This magnificent Italianate ceiling acts as a centrepiece for the public areas of the hotel. Looking up from the lobby library, the ceiling appears to be blue and gold but upstairs on the mezzanine level – where the more formal restaurant is housed and the ornate stylings are almost close enough to touch – hues of orange and coral become visible. It’s a colour scheme that runs throughout the hotel’s 241 guest rooms. Yes, there is a pool through the sliding glass doors of the soon-to-be-finished rooftop bar but the feel is firmly Italian-country-house-meets-urban-skyline: with potted lemon trees and a giant, open-mouthed ogre’s face looming over the water’s edge. The surreal sculpture is a replica of a 16th-century stone monument from Lazio’s Parco dei Mostri.
Chef Daniel Humm and his partner restaurateur Will Guidara (of Eleven Madison Park) are responsible for the food throughout the hotel, including the casual all-day lobby restaurant, the mezzanine level (which is currently dinner only), the Giannini Bar (named after the Bank of Italy’s founder, Amadeo Giannini) and the airy Coffee Bar on the opposite side of the lobby.
“This is where the hotel takes a peek-a-boo out to the city streets,” says Zobler, amid the big glass windows and Italian standing tables of the Coffee Bar: a space modelled on the 300-year-old Caffè Florian in Venice. As if on cue, an elegant older woman standing outside on Olive Street peers into the window with her hands framing her face, likely trying to make sense of so European a scene unfolding in the heart of downtown LA.
Other properties in the Sydell stable
Line Hotel. It’s hard to get more happening than the Brutalist 1960s Koreatown Line building. Residents hang out day and night, tapping at laptops and eating food from Roy Choi.
NoMad New York. The flagship NoMad – known for its turn-of-the-century beaux-arts berth, painstakingly restored cupola, and fine dining – was the Sydell Group’s first foray into hotels (it had previously been in property).
Freehand Miami. Billed as the first “upscale hostel” in the US, this chic hotel-hostel made serious waves when it opened a short, sandy stroll from South Beach in 2012.
The Ned. Designed by Sir Edwin “Ned” Lutyens, the gargantuan former Midland Bank HQ in the City of London was restored in partnership with Soho House & Co.
Freehand Los Angeles. This hybrid hotel-hostel offers an unpretentious hostel vibe with the amenities of a hotel. Broken Shaker serves the city’s best cocktails alongside a charming pool.