Thursday 20 June 2013

LA: Figuring the Figueroa

I've been in Los Angeles for a few days at the end of my current US trip, focusing on the lesser-visited Downtown area. It's an interesting part of the city, with a wealth of history and quite different from anywhere else in the City of Angels.

That description could also be applied to my accommodation, the Figueroa Hotel. When I first stepped into this unusual hotel, I wasn't sure I'd like it.

I'd just transferred from a shiny hotel near LAX with sleek contemporary decor, the sort of look I love, and here I was in a cavernous dimly-lit lobby which sported a strange range of enormous vintage light fittings and odd wooden statues.

My room, too, was unlike anything I'd stayed in before... except, perhaps, in my years living in the Middle East. The room had plenty of space and a king-size bed, but in all other respects it was unconventional.

The walls were painted red, there was a decorated arch separating the bed from the rest of the room, and colourful cloth adornments on the walls. Two inset closets sat side by side, and the bathroom was split across two rooms - one containing the shower and toilet, the other with the sink and mirror.

Other furnishings included an ornamental Arabian water pipe standing on a tiled shelf by the door, a cowskin rug on the floor, and two enormous timber chairs which could double as thrones.

It was all very odd.

But last night, after I'd returned to the hotel after a day exploring the Downtown and neighbouring El Pueblo district, it all came together.

Too tired to traipse the nearby streets for dinner, I went down to the cafe which occupies a section of the hotel's capacious foyer.

From the short menu I ordered a hamburger and, as is laudably the way in this country, was asked how I'd like it cooked. While waiting for it to arrive, I took a seat in the quiet dining area (there was only one other table occupied) and sat back to take it all in.

At the end of a busy day of sightseeing and note taking, it was perfect. The dim light, the insanely ornate fixtures, the soft, hard-to-pin-down world music drifting from speakers high above. For some reason, I felt extraordinarily relaxed by it all.

Judging from the Middle Eastern tiles, the Indian timber furniture or the statues of Buddha, to name but a few elements, we could have been anywhere. Or nowhere. Certainly not the streets of LA. But maybe that was the idea.

Here are some pics of the lobby and dining area, to show you what I mean:

I later spoke to the hotel's owner, Uno Thimansson, an émigré from Sweden who bought the hotel in the 1970s when Downtown was at its lowest ebb.

He told me it had started life in the 1920s as a YWCA, but the Depression had put an end to that and it had transformed into a hotel. Upon taking possession of the place decades later, Thimansson had had to make a lot of changes to bring it up to scratch.

One of these changes involved knocking down walls to combine rooms lacking bathrooms with rooms that had plumbing. My own, I learned, was once two rooms which had been melded together - thus explaining the strangely disjointed bathroom.

So here I am, typing this in an eccentrically arranged room I've grown strangely fond of, and didn't initially think I'd enjoy. I shall miss it when I fly home tomorrow.

The Figueroa Hotel's rooms start at US$148 per night; see

Disclosure time... On this trip I was hosted by the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board and the Figueroa Hotel. All opinions, however, are mine. For more information on visiting Los Angeles, check out the Discover LA website.

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