Biltmore Hotel

Interior Decorations

515 S. Olive, 1923. Schulte and Weaver, architects.

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Genius-and art

The Los Angeles Biltmore's Public Rooms are, in a sense, a monument to a man. His name is Giovanni Battista Smeraldi and he came from Palermo, Italy. As a youthful apprentice, he worked with a famed Italian artist on several palaces at the Vatican. As a full-fledged artist he came as a young man to America in the last century. Known in this country as John B. Smeraldi, he was the leading artist in his field, and he lavished much painting, mainly on ceilings, on many historic public buildings over the United States. He was an interior decorator of first order as well as a master painter....

Earl Heitschmidt, the architect who designed much of it [the main Lobby], said that the Los Angeles Biltmore, in both its exterior elevations and the decor of its spacious Public Rooms and Corridors, fully represents the Renaissance style. As a consequence, the Bilmore possesses elegance found in palaces and some of the public buildings of Italy, Spain and France, but seldom in hotels.

Heitschmidt was associate architect with Schulze & Weaver, the firm that designed the Los Angeles Biltmore, and who was the architects for the Waldorf-Astoria, the Park Lane, Sherry-Netherlands and the Pierre in New York City.

Years later, Smeraldi returned to the Hotel and told the managing director, Mr. Edward S. Bernard, that he considered the Biltmore his finest work in this country, and asked for the opportunity to re-examine it in detail.

Smeraldi felt the work needed some retouching; arrangements were made for him to proceed at his own pace, and the artist chose to work during the quiet night hours. His scaffolding had to be set up each evening and taken down the following morning and an entire year passed before Smeraldi was sastified that his work was completed.

He didn't realized the work he considered his greatest was also to be his last-within days of his last brush stroke at the Biltmore, the artist's heart failed...

Since Smeraldi's passing, only one decorating consultant-Mr. Anthony B. Heinsbergen, a famous artist in his own right-has been permitted to refresh and retouch his masterworks.

The Setting

In its setting, the Los Angeles Biltmore demonstrates adherence to the Renaissance concept of civic design, which has been defined as a "rationally constructed ordering of physical reality." Also, inside the 1500-room structure, its painting, carving and sculpture are decoratively in character with the architecture and carefully executed in harmony with the Classic ideals and precedent.

Spanish-Italian Renaissance architecture is faithfully shown by the Olive Street facade opposite Pershing Square, where the imposing main entrance is located, and the Grand Avenue facade, opposite to which is Library Park. The building is in reddish, ornamental brick relieved by extensive use of cream-colored stone, antiqued copper on the cornice and terra cotta roof tiles. The Olive Street elevation suggests three massive towers separated by the courts.

Huge stone columns, whose classic proportions endow them with grace despite their size, support a magnificent frieze above the main entranceway. This frieze, with its sculptures and medallions, is a work of art in its own right.

The Lobby

Classic concepts of order, balance and clarity are evident in the composition of this great space equivalent to a cathedral nave. Portal and Lobby which are three stories high incorporate giant Venetian bronze standard which hold in niches, life-size statues of the Muses, one above the other. Construction of the Lobby reflects characteristics and details of the cathedrals at Burgos and Seville. Its walls of travertine stone rise to a loftly ribbed and vaulted ceiling.

If the Lobby was actually a cathedral, the altar would have risen at the far western end. Here is placed the entrance to elevators, while staircases on either side lead to the Galeria level. Stairways, equipped with velveted handrails, are decorated with plaster and ornamental bronze, and are framed by two large medallions. At each side of the Lobby a series of friezed arches opens into nave bays designed in pendentived domes and tiled in blue mosaic.

The ceiling sections are brilliantly decorated in polychrome with elaborate wood carving ad plasterwork. Here warm, rich reds are balanced by large areas of delicate greens, accented with 24-karat gold, giving the lobby a princely dignity. Coats of arms of noble Spanish families are at the base of the ceiling ornamentation. Gold gargoyles in the shape of cherubs and rams thrust forward into the room. Two lighting fixtures made of bronze and imported from Italy cast a soft light over the scene.

The Lounge

Opening off the north side of the Lobby is the Lounge, a room of unusual historic interest that is a famed meeting place for persons of discriminating taste on the city as well as guests in the hotel from all parts of the world. This room is a reproduction of the royal hall in which Queen Isabella first learned from the intrepid Christopher Columbus of the existence of America. In the ceiling, squares of colored are shaped as cups, the type in which whale oil was burned without the use of a wick. Each lamp is decorated with a compass rose.

Between the two center lights is an illuminated globe after one made by Leonardo da Vinci in the period of 1515, showing the geography of the world then known. On it, California is called Calata. Overlooking the longitudinal facades of the room are heraldic busts of Columbus and other heroes of Spain. Simple Tuscan columns extend along the lounge, setting off an alcove with individual tables on either side. Columns are adorned with maidens in the manners of a ship's prow, and their capitals carry design alternate with squares of wood carving that depict notable figures of Spanish history, explores who sailed under the Spanish Flag and, of course, Queen Isabella, Cortez, Balboa, and Columbus.

The lounge is lighted by lamps which are hand-made replicas of those used in Genoa in Columbus' time. Instead of taking the conventional form of candelabra, the lamps busts of Saint Augustine. The side lamps carry a motif of the sailing vessels, Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

A long bar is at one side, made unobstructive by use of dark wood and a minimum of mirror, following the antique character of the room. Many tables with leather upholstered arm chairs are contained in the friendly setting. Opposite is a fireplace modeled on one in Isabella's palace. On its mantelpiece is a clock, imported from Italy, designed in gold with multicolored marble base. Authentic coats of arms belonging to Columbus, Isabella and Ferdinand, along with those of leading Spanish courtiers of that age appear on the walls.

The Grill Room...

Opening to the South from the Lobby is the spacious Grill, popular at luncheon with business executives and at dinner a chic gathering place for families and pre-theatre parties.

Once known as the Roman Room, this is a true copy of a Pompeian dining room...Constructed from the plans of a prominent palace uncovered in the ruins of the doomed city-where in the era prior to Mt. Vesuvius' eruption in 79 A.D., Romans dined from divans surrounding a pool. Original Pompeian construction detail has been observed in the Grill even to its sunken floor.

Here the walls are covered with antique oak paneling and there are many square panels of the same wood with hand-carved capitals. Its beamed ceiling is decorated with hand painting of fleur de lis. There are large and handsome chandeliers of wrought iron with bronze ornaments offset by standing candelabra in filigree style.

The Galeria

Twin staircase from the Lobby lead through a vaulted alcove into the Galeria, a dazzling promenade where one again is made aware of the thousands of hour's toil that went into Smeraldi's masterpiece. Here is a grand arcade in the style of the finest Venetian public buildings. Classic ivy motif columns lead to the airy, coffered ceiling and three-dimensional sculptures that exemplify the artist's energy and personality in various media.

Through the Galeria, which extends the full width of the hotel there, is a rich flow of design in a dispersed or rhythmical pattern. Overhead are large surfaces covered with smaller oil paintings set in a wheel mosaic, interspersed with bronze filigrees. There are classic goddesses in white, simulating cameos; and, in color, painting of dancing nymphs; winged horses, and still other panels of Roman ruins. It was here that Smeraldi chose to link artistically the lore of California in several prominent wall insets depicting an Indian scene.

The Galeria is a famed hotel fixture, making for easy access to assembly rooms on either side, and a convenient passageway through the hotel. Its white marble floors are covered with large rugs and its walls are paneled in oak, where hang framed paintings of an art gallery. Wrought iron chandelier and bracket lamps here also carry out the whale oil cup design of the Genoese.

The South Galeria

Access to Grand Avenue is provided through the unique South Galeria, which has been laid out as a replica of the original Halls of Pompeii-its construction based upon evidence uncovered in the ruins of the ancient Roman city.

Walls here are handsomely inlaid with ornate friezes and Roman styled art, lighted by heavy chandeliers on which are mounted globes and candles of steel. Its Classic vaults rise from thick Roman columns, and along them runs a massive and implacable ballustrade of veined Umbrian marble. Heavily carpeted white marble floor lead to a broad staircase, which descends to the world-renowned Biltmore Bowl. An escalator on one side of the stair provides added convenient to guests.

The Music Room

This popular room, seating 300 persons at tables, is finished in faithful Renaissance style as the others. Its special glory is an illuminated ceiling in beautiful design and the classic fountain (shown above) which is the central element around which the room is designed. Delicate crystal chandeliers combine to enhance its magnificence. The Music Room is located just off the main Galeria near the central elevators.

The Renaissance Room

At the far north end of the Galeria is the Renaissance Room, where 400 persons can be served sumptuously at tables. It is striking room in travertine effect with stone columns rising to the level of the beamed ceiling, which is hand painted. There are four large gold chandeliers, imported from Italy, festooned with semi-precious stones. In all facets of the design and decor of the Renaissance Room there is reflected an elegant aura associated with dining in the grand manner.

The Ballroom

Most elaborate of the Public Rooms of the Biltmore is the Ballroom-setting for balls, debuts, luncheons and dinners. The richness of its design and furnishings perhaps has never been surpassed in any building in this country.

It is entered by way of the Ballroom Foyer, through wide wrought iron grilled gates. The Foyer contains many pillars providing cloistered bays. The ceiling is of wood and plaster with hand-painted designs on its beams, all specially arranged with regard for symmetry. There are sculptures of early explorers in full relief over entrances as well as relief sculptures of Queen Isabella and Columbus repeated in side brackets.

The ballroom is a spacious, high-ceilinged facility capable of seating 700 persons at tables and of accommodating the largest dances. There are balconies projecting from three sides. Motif of the Ballroom is gold and blue; balconies are in gilding with draperies of dark blue and white. There are many full-height Corinthian pillars at the sides of the room which have capitals covered with gold leaf. Sideboxes are finished in a mystical shell design, while cherubs peer down from the moldings.

The ceiling is the most elaborate of Smeraldi's work. Mounted in its concave, domed surface is a single canvas of great proportion decorated with goddesses, cupids, satyrs and other mythical figures as well as two large females dancing figures. Two mammoth crystal lighting fixtures, imported from Europe, are suspended from the ceiling to add a truly glittering effect.

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