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Fate of Ambassador Hotel Site Decided

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Once again the Los Angeles Unified School District has displayed a lousy vision for educating Los Angeles youth and managing the historic resources under their stewardship.

After years of uncertainty and discussions between LAUSD, developers, and preservation advocates, yesterday’s 4-3 vote in favor of Superintendent Roy Romer’s plan made it official — most of the Ambassador Hotel will face the wrecking ball within a few years.

It was clear that the Board members had made up their minds prior to the final hearing, but this fact didn’t deter emotional testimonials from the public. A young LAUSD student challenged teachers and LAUSD board members to "practice what you preach" and vote to retain the site's historic structures and character. With the help of a translator, a Spanish-speaking local resident spoke in favor of preserving history at the Ambassador.

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Supporters of the $318-million Romer plan, including actor Martin Sheen and members of Robert Kennedy’s family, view this as a mutually exclusive education vs. preservation issue. At the hearing, Sheen repeated the position that razing the site ASAP and building new school facilities will best benefit children in the community.

Arguments were largely focused on the problems that plague the city's schools, such as bussing and overcrowding, rather than the issue of reusing the Ambassador in an appropriate manner. While the immense need for more school seats is irrefutable, what's also regrettable is how the fate of the Ambassador Hotel has become entangled with LAUSD misdeeds and mismanagement. Finding creative solutions to rehabilitate one of LA's most prominent historic sites has little to do with resolving long-simmering issues like bussing and a problem-plagued education system (not to mention a little place called the Belmont Learning Center, eh?). In the meantime, advocacy groups are mulling legal action against the District.

Alas, our elected officials fail to pay heed to the lesson emblazoned on a billboard adjacent to the Ambassador: "Teach History. Don’t Erase It."

Historic postcard image from Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.