The Millennium Biltmore: From Oscar to Olympus

Discover the history and grandeur of the landmark hotel

Galleria at Millennium Biltmore Hotel
Galleria at Millennium Biltmore Hotel

You’re a “go big or go home” kind of traveler, with a penchant for opulent elegance on a palatial scale—we’re talking Venetian glass chandeliers, fountains, frescoes, embroidered tapestries, carved marble, surroundings fit for a papal visit. That’s why the Millennium Biltmore, one of L.A.’s oldest and grandest places to stay, fits your aesthetic vision perfectly.

Lobby at Millennium Biltmore Hotel
Lobby at Millennium Biltmore Hotel

Opened in 1923 with a design by Schultze & Weaver, the architecture firm behind the Waldorf Astoria and Park Lane hotels in New York, the Biltmore’s decadent Beaux Arts-inspired design occupies half a city block and 11 stories - its suites have hosted six Presidents, Bugsy Malone, the Beatles, and now, you.

You wake in a room overlooking Pershing Square, smack dab in the heart of the Downtown L.A. Financial District. For breakfast, you opt for made-to-order omelettes at one of the property’s three restaurants, Smeraldi’s, named for Italian genius Giovanni Battista Smeraldi, the man responsible for the mind-boggling artistry inside the hotel, and who was renowned for his work on the White House and the Vatican when he was commissioned to work on the Biltmore.

Afternoon Tea at the Rendezvous Court in the Millennium Biltmore
Afternoon Tea at the Rendezvous Court | Photo courtesy of Millennium Biltmore

The original lobby, now called the Rendezvous Court, feels cathedral-like, with its Moorish Revival ceiling, three stories high, painted with 24 Carat Gold accents and its grand bronze doorway with astrological clock. You make reservations for Afternoon Tea in the room, and try to imagine what cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey will taste like under those three story high vaulted ceilings.

Crystal Ballroom at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel
The Crystal Ballroom at Millennium Biltmore Hotel | Photo courtesy of Michael Chen, Flickr

You peek into the hotel’s famed Crystal Ballroom, with its imported 12-foot wide Austrian crystal chandeliers, and the giant fresco, hand painted in 1922 by Smeraldi over a period of seven months. You are overcome by a feeling of reverence, and wonder if you are indeed standing in the Sistine Chapel of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Conservancy offers historic tours of the hotel at 2 p.m. every Sunday, recounting how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded here, at a luncheon banquet in May 1927, when Louis B. Mayer met to discuss plans for achievement awards for their friends in their industry. MGM art director Cedric Gibbons reputedly scribbled the design for the Oscar statue on a linen napkin, watched over by Smeraldi’s Greek and Roman gods, angels, and cupids.

“Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” by Yayoi Kusama
“Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” by Yayoi Kusama | Photo courtesy of Kusama.Yayoi

You could stare at these ceilings all day, were it not for the cultural attractions that beckon—Frank Gehry’s postmodern wonder, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is blocks away, as are The Broad museum and MOCA, whose small but awe-inspiring collection of Rothko paintings fill you with so much emotion, you feel dizzy. You need a drink to process the grandiosity of it all.

Pershing Square viewed from Perch
Pershing Square viewed from Perch | Photo courtesy of Paolo Pamintuan, Flickr

As you sit at the Art Deco-inspired rooftop bar-restaurant Perch, nibbling on coq au vin and other updated Gallic classics, you stare at the Downtown L.A. cityscape - the signs for the Rosslyn and the Million Dollar Hotel in silhouette against the peachy sunset. A cloud shaped like one of Smeraldi’s cupids floats by, and you’re reminded that this town, like the Biltimore, was built on dreams.

Millennium Biltmore
506 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90071