“It is filled with this aura of Old Hollywood, and it was our job to bring this landmark into the modern age,” says AD100 Hall of Fame designer Kelly Wearstler of her latest project: reimagining and recasting a circa-1926 California Renaissance Revival building by architects Curlett & Beelman in Los Angeles’s South Park District into the Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel. It was originally a swank private club, with Cecil B. DeMille as a member; then, around the 1960s, it became a YWCA, some vestiges of which Wearstler fashioned into novel suites.
This effort was a long time in the making, with three years of restoration, peeling away drop ceilings, and uncovering “strong, graphic shapes and moldings, which really allowed us to play with color and depth in new ways,“ Wearstler says. They then carefully renovated, aiming to capture the vibrancy of the neighborhood’s historical multicultural roots in a 147-room resort-like hospitality and design mecca.
“Guest rooms have unique proportions and features that have lasted from the building’s genesis through its time as a YWCA, which provided canvases for us to design transportive experiences,” Wearstler tells AD. Inside, Mexican modernism melds with French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Moroccan influences, plus 136 unique types of tile, from vintage to custom.
As relevant as the building’s storied background was, Wearstler says the authenticity lies in “tapping into what is currently happening and not being nostalgic or sentimental. There is certainly a collaborative mash-up happening in this property, which is largely reflective of what is happening in Downtown and the Eastside of L.A. right now,” she adds. “It’s young, fresh, and eclectic.”
Collaborators are part of what makes this fourth Proper hotel—a brand that celebrates the micro-local—so special, and their presence is felt from the first step inside. A prismatic arched ceiling featuring a mélange of fantastical Mexican folk art animals, painted by Abel Macias, greets all who enter. It is evidence of Wearstler’s fearlessness with color and also echoes the classic Renaissance motifs of flora and fauna. Along with a pair of graceful cacti and the original pink and white checkerboard marble tile floor, it’s a portal into a vividly warm experience.
Completing 360 degrees of aesthetic beauty are L.A. ceramicist Morgan Peck’s graphite front desk installation, which hints at a Memphis Group influence, and monumental stained glass doorways by longtime L.A. staple and Frank Lloyd Wright collaborators Judson Studios. These, says Wearstler, “ground the interiors in a sense of place.”
The hotel opened in early October, but Wearstler continues to put finishing touches on two extra-special suites. One spans 1,430 square feet and was built inside the two-story half basketball court, with intact timber floors. “Sculptural hooped lighting playfully nods to the space’s former use,” Wearstler says, adding that a series of pivoting doors allow light to flood in. The second standout embraces the original 35-by-12-foot indoor swimming pool, which they discovered shared a floor plate with guest rooms and inspired an “iconic suite.” Amplifying the pool’s elegance is an ivory ceramic mural by Frogtown’s Ben Medansky, whose graphic motifs reflect in the length of the aquamarine surface.
“While the interiors definitely have an L.A. attitude, they are also very worldly and global, which is not unlike the city,” says Wearstler, whose standard guest rooms in charcoals, mauves, and warm metals feature works only by nearby artists, alongside custom-designed furniture and decor. Specialty suites highlight predominantly vintage pieces. Wearstler’s signature of mixing vintage with contemporary “is manifested through vintage furnishings such as hand-carved chairs from Mexico, and vintage Turkish, Moroccan, and handcrafted rugs,” she says. As is the Proper way, there is an exceptional number of plants throughout.
This is especially true in Caldo Verde, one of a couple of food and beverage concepts infused with Portuguese, Moorish, Spanish, and Mexican influences—nodding to Downtown L.A.’s past—by James Beard Award–winning chef Suzanne Goin and restauranteur Caroline Styne. Their grand ground-floor restaurant is joined by a forthcoming lofty pink lounge dubbed Dalia and Cara Cara, the open-air bar and restaurant on the stunning panoramic rooftop.
Intimate lounge-y vignettes dot the perimeter of that space, and a circular fire pit at one corner seems to reign over all of Downtown. “The somewhat unusual design of the swimming pool—a raised deck, lots of colorful tile patterns and textures, a multitude of lush plantings—[is] intended to create the impression of a large fountain,” Wearstler says, “a unique concept that elevates the rooftop experience.” And elevate it does. From the pool with commanding views over Broadway corridor and throughout the striking yet serene property, the feeling is more lush oasis than city hotel.
The building was formerly a private club and later became a YMCA.
DTLA’s other new attractions
Blocks from the Proper, natural-wine enthusiasts can find biodynamic, low-intervention, and small-production varieties at Good Clean Fun, a lively new outdoor bottle shop and eatery by a few Manuela veterans including chef Jesus Ramirez-Arteaga, whose rotating California-Mediterranean menu is infused with unexpected mole sauces and vibrant spins on sustainable shellfish. A moody elegance pervades Enrique Olvera’s eagerly anticipated Arts District opening, Damian, a multifaceted veggie- and seafood-forward destination. In the same ’hood is L.A.’s first modern Brazilian restaurant, Caboco, by chef Rodrigo Oliveira, the culinary mind behind two Michelin-starred São Paolo eateries. And preservationists are celebrating Apple’s recently opened ornate flagship inside the circa-1927 Tower Theatre a few blocks up, where some DTLA architectural tours begin.
Words by Kathryn Romeyn
This article originally appeared on Architectural digest