With a magnificent sign spelling out “Proper Hotel” in bright neon lights stretching the length of its corner, my first impression of the Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel began long before I arrived at its grand arched doorway. I entered past the façade’s original terra cotta details to an even more impressive lobby—two giant cacti serve as the gates to a whimsical hallway painted with Mexican folk art animals. I soon discover the intimate statement lobby is just the appetizer to the visual feast that internationally acclaimed designer Kelly Wearstler has created.
“Other hotels make their presidential suites too safe, this is bold,” general manager Stephane Lacroix tells me as we arrive on the seventh floor during a property tour the following day. He opens the suite doors and I’m immediately dumbfounded by the sight before me—an enormous indoor pool.
Stretching 35 feet long by 12 feet wide, the heated body of crystalline water reflects a sweeping ivory ceramic mosaic mural by local artist Ben Medansky on the one side and plush vintage armchairs on the other. The open concept living room extends into the bright kitchen, where warm woods are complimented by a Portuguese-inspired checkerboard marble floor. The sensuous playfulness continues into the bedroom where an inviting bed overlooks the television held by an art easel. Everything encourages leisure, including the ensuite bathroom where a two-head shower envelopes you in water from both sides.
The inspiration for such a distinctive suite? The building’s history as a YWCA in the 1960s. “The guest rooms have unique features that hint at the building’s past lives, these quirky features provided canvases for us to design transportive environments,” Kelly Wearstler explains over email.
The building’s past life as a YWCA is also evident in the hotel’s other presidential suite—the ‘Court Suite,’ aptly named after its former function as an indoor basketball court. Aside from the original painted timber floors and two-story ceilings, you would never guess the living room was once the site of basketball games. Like its sister presidential suite, Wearstler has filled the 1,430-square-foot space with custom furniture, in a variety of textures and geometric shapes. Color blocks of charcoal, moss and smoky blue transform the living room walls into a large-scale art installation, while the bedroom walls are lined with patterned fabrics that complement the handmade rugs.
While the hotel was once a YWCA in the 1960s, its roots actually trace back to the 1920s, when it was constructed by L.A. architects Curlett & Beelman. “The building was originally a private club with members like Cecil B. DeMille, so it has a very authentic old Hollywood vibe,” says Wearstler. “It was my job to bring this landmark into the modern age but also to preserve its rich history, so I added contemporary design elements balanced with vintage pieces that allude to the building’s roots in early 20th-century Los Angeles architecture.”
This blending of vintage and modern is seen throughout the hotel—from the eclectic mix of custom furnishings to the handcrafted textiles to the use of more than 100 different kinds of tiles. The attention to detail turns the hotel into a treasure trove of design elements to discover, each tying back to the building’s heritage. “I took inspiration from Spanish missions, Moroccan architecture and craft, and Mexican Modernist art,” explains Wearstler. “L.A. is a very multicultural city, my goal was to capture this cultural richness and create a design that felt authentic to the surrounding community.”
The hotel stands not only as a celebration of the city’s diverse history, but of its thriving culture today—from the graphite front desk installation crafted by local ceramist Morgan Peck to the stained glass doorways by L.A.-based Judson Studios to the eye-catching florals arranged by Isa Isa. Everything has a story to tell, with, as Wearstler describes, “a variety of plaster textures, leathered stone and hand-painted tiles giving the hotel a warm, lived-in residential feel.”
The local, bespoke experience continues in the hotel’s 148 rooms and suites, where original windows blanket custom furnishings and amenities–like Wearstler-designed throws and Wearstler x Parachute bathrobes–in warm Los Angeles light. Even the minibar reflects the city’s culture with sweets from local chocolaterie Milla Chocolates and libations from downtown L.A.-based Amass gin and Nat Kidder Vodka.
The hyper-local focus is especially appreciated among the guests, 75% of whom are from the Los Angeles area, according to Lacroix. The general manager tells me staycations have been booming during the pandemic, “they feel like they’re discovering their own city because they never used to come to downtown L.A..” Angelenos who don’t intend on spending the night are also drawn to the hotel for its 5,000-square-foot rooftop, where Mexican cuisine from James Beard Award-winning chef Suzanne Goin is served alongside sweeping city views.
Decorated with glowing green palo verde trees, heat lamps and an intimate pool, the rooftop provides a lush retreat from the bustling downtown below, an area that is emerging as a destination in its own right. “Our city is truly experiencing a cultural renaissance,” says Wearstler. “Since Downtown L.A. is rich with historical architecture, it has been one of the first to enjoy this resurgence.”
The historical architecture Wearstler refers to isn’t limited to the Proper Hotel—several downtown hotels have taken over 1920s buildings. Across the street, The Hoxton is set in a 1922 building that was once the headquarters of the L.A. Railway Authority. The hotel celebrates its art deco charm with bold colors, restored windows, original marble and grand doorways.
A block away, you’ll find the Ace Hotel in the United Artists Building dating back to 1927 while a couple blocks further, Hotel Figueroa originally opened its doors as a YWCA in 1926. It was the first women created by women for women and continues to uphold its feminist legacy today by showcasing work by female artists and amenities by women-owned local businesses.
But few building revivals compare to the 1927 Tower Theatre, which was transformed by Apple into their flagship store. The newest addition to the downtown renaissance hints at what’s to come—as Lacroix tells me, “If you have a brand like Apple investing in a building like this, there’s a reason.”