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Arts and Entertainment

Downtown's Gorgeous New Freehand Hotel Offers Boutique Amenities For A Hostel Price

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After more than three years of renovating the historic Commercial Exchange building, the Sydell Group's Freehand hotel is finally open to guests.

The 226-key hotel, at the corner of 8th and Olive Streets in downtown Los Angeles, offers both shared and private room. The building, constructed in 1924, had sat vacant for years before its conversion, but was previously the first retail location of the Owl Drug Company, and even housed "Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs' publishing company. According to the Los Angeles Times, when the city decided to widen Olive Street in the mid-1930s, a 10-foot section from the middle of the Commercial Exchange building was removed, and the two remaining sides were pushed together.

With the building's rebirth as the Freehand Hotel, the Sydell Group hopes to bridge "the gap between these two eras to create a conversation between past and future, layering a modern interpretation of LA’s evolving urban landscape over meticulously restored interiors."

The first Freehand opened in Miami in 2012 as an "upscale hostel," writes the Miami Herald. A follow-up Freehand then opened in Chicago in 2015. The Freehand Los Angeles is the brand's first foray into luxury territory with the incorporation of private superior rooms and suites. But for the more economically-minded, hostel-style shared rooms (bunk beds and all) allow for rates that are sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper than beds at surrounding hotels.

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"The Freehand is designed as a place for people who want to interact with other guests and with locals," Andrew Zobler, chief executive of the Sydell Group, which will be opening The NoMad Hotel later this year (also in downtown), told the Times. "It's set up for people who want to have experiences as opposed to people who just want to sleep and get in and out."

That experience includes Rudolph's Bar in the lobby, along with a restaurant called The Exchange, a rooftop pool and bar set to open in August, and an outpost of Flowerboy Project, the Venice Beach flowers-and-wares shop.

The hotel's interiors were overseen by firm Roman and Williams (who decorated both Freehand Miami and Chicago, as well as the Standard High Line), and combines Craftsman and Midcentury styles to pay homage to Southern Californian history. "[Los Angeles is] the perfect place to embrace the Freehand spirit of travel and exploration. …[the design is] a little bohemian and has a lot of earthiness, and is really inspired by all of California—from the ocean to the desert," Robin Standefer, co-founder of Roman and Williams, told LALA magazine.

Meanwhile, a large mural by the local art collective CYRCLE covers an opposing wall in the hotel's lightwell. The mural highlights iconic figures like Malcolm X and Barack Obama—each room will have a window looking out at the mural, providing a slightly different view from each unit.

As the development of downtown L.A. continues accelerates, the Freehand should remain as one of the prime locations to eat, sleep, and play in the neighborhood, all at the same time.

The Freehand Hotel is located at 416 West 8th Street in Downtown Los Angeles. (213) 612-0021. Current rates are between $84 and $369, however rates are seasonally adjusted and subject to availability.

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