The Shangri-La Hotel at 1301 Ocean Avenue seems as ageless as its name suggests. Its white Streamline Moderne façade, designed by William Foster, has long been a familiar sight to beach-goers. But the 1939 hotel is currently in the process of a makeover that will bring it up to date.
The renovation will add 17 new rooms by splitting up some of the Shangri-La’s larger suites. There will also be a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and 18 new parking spaces.
The exterior of the hotel will undergo some minor improvements, including new lighting, an ADA-compliant access ramp, new doors, windows and balcony railings and landscaping elements.
Because the Shangri-La is eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places as well as for local landmark designation, the renovation has been designed to not impact the building’s historic features.
Tehmina Adaya, the Shangri-La’s owner, spoke with the Mirror about the hotel’s history.
“It was originally built as an apartment building and over the years it has been used as many things,” Adaya explains. “It was used as an Army Barracks during WWII, then it was turned into an apartment hotel. It’s basically served the community in whichever way the community needed to be served.”
Adaya’s father bought the Shangri-La in 1983. “He was never a hotelier, but he just loved the location and the architecture.”
At that time, Adaya says that the interior of the hotel “was in a horrible condition. We actually made a facelift of the lobby and [fixed up] a lot of the rooms.
“We put in a two-line phone system. We put in AC over the years – living in Santa Monica [where temperatures] are in the 70s and 80s, you don’t really need the AC but since the greenhouse effect there have been heat waves so we have done certain things. But a real infrastructure change and facelift has never been done. We felt that it was time to do it.”
Because the Shangri-La had been designed as an apartment house, many of its suites were actually apartments with their own full kitchens. Some suites even had two bathrooms. Even the studio apartments had full kitchens and private baths.
The hotel lacked amenities like a pool and souvenir shops. But the Shangri-La was a popular refuge, a place where a person could “get away from it all.”
“Some people loved the fact that it didn’t have a pool!” says Adaya. “If you went into the old courtyard it had a very Zen feel about it. When you came to the hotel it was actually a very wonderful escape. Santa Monica was a different city than it is now-you could actually come here to disappear.”
The Shangri-La’s hideaway ambience made it popular with celebrities. Adaya lists some of the regular residents and guests.
“Diane Keaton stayed there extensively. Sean Penn and Madonna conducted their affair there – it’ s where they got married. The guy who wrote ‘I Love LA’ – what’s his name? Randy Newman lived in one of the penthouses for years and he wrote the song there.
“Bruce Weber became famous because the Calvin Klein commercials were all shot there. American Vogue shot there. We’ve had dozens and dozens of photo shoots and celebrities staying there. [We have] letters from Tom Cruise saying ‘Thank you for taking care of me.’
“The way I look at the building is that it’s a wonderful part of the City of Santa Monica. Its different permutations have always been what the community needed at that point.”