I drove by the Ambassador last night inadvertently, trying to find some way to shave a couple of minutes off of my commute. The last bit of the hotel's signage faces south-west and caught the setting sun. On the radio, commentators talked about the historic nature of Barack Obama's win of the Democratic nomination, with no mention of the anniversary that was coming the next day.
This morning, the sun remains well hidden under clouds, and work on the Central Los Angeles Learning Center was going full steam ahead. That concrete pillar marking the old driveway to the Ambassador continues to slowly crumble and lose letters as it has for years now. The news on the radio still plays snippets of Obama's speech from last night, but they're now interspersed with those chilling last lines of Robert Kennedy's victory speech from the hotel on June 4, 1968.
"My thanks to all of you. And now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there."
Los Angeles is justifiably notorious for disregarding its history, and there's no need to revisit the battles over the painfully slow transition of the Ambassador to a school.
But it was still sad this morning to see no mention of Kennedy's assassination that took place here 40 years ago, other than a green city street sign in the middle of Wilshire and a little art deco shaped pole with some pictures and a short description of the event that wasn't easy to read. No one else stood in front of the chain link fence except the city worker who was guarding the entrance to the site. "Is that today?" he asked, when he realized why I was there.
Just a couple of months ago, all three television networks were in Memphis to mark the 40th anniversary of the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King. Speeches were given throughout the day at the The Lorraine Motel. Like L.A. today, it was overcast and gloomy.
The Lorraine of course still looks exactly like it did in 1968, though inside it now houses the National Civil Rights Museum. Meanwhile, back in L.A., it's just me and the guard. "Maybe they'll name the school after him," he said. They won't of course; not when they have the catchy "Central L.A. New Learning Center #1" signs ready to go.
Though most of the hotel has been swept away entirely, this column reminds me of an overgrown temple in Asia or South America. For at least a little longer, until it's also torn down.
The plan is that this last bit of wall shown above might actually be integrated into the construction of the school.
All photos by Mark Mauer.
Robert Kennedy's victory speech at the Ambassador, June 4, 1968
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Also see The Ambassador's Last Stand: Franklin Avenue's ongoing coverage of the L.A. landmark's final days.
And on NPR's Day to Day Alex Chadwick talked to journalist Pete Hamill about what happened that night. It's a stunner.