BEN SULLIVAN Staff Reporter
It’s been called the Continental Hyatt, the Hyatt on Sunset and, most recently, the Hyatt West Hollywood.
By whatever official name, the hotel has been known since the 1960s by a distinctly less glamorous moniker.
“It was the Riot Hyatt,” said Michael Koffler, the hotel’s 38-year-old general manager. “It’s the place Axl Rose tossed steaks down to fans on Sunset Boulevard. It’s where Led Zeppelin (band members) road a Harley through the halls.”
Owing largely to its location on the heart of the Sunset Strip, the 262-room hotel has for 30 years served as the favorite crash pad of rock stars passing through L.A.
And now with a $3.5 million renovation underway, Hyatt management is capitalizing on that reputation, attempting to turn what was once a corporate embarrassment into a showcase.
The Hyatt is culminating months of hype over the “re-mixed, re-mastered and re-released” facility this week with a lavish party at the hotel. By way of invitation, the company sent out plastic compact disk containers, complete with liner notes, detailing the hotel’s rich history.
Jim Morrison, for example, lived at the hotel in the 1970s until he was evicted for hanging out of a window from his fingertips. Rose’s exploits and the filming of “Spinal Tap” highlighted the 1980s, while in this decade Prince, Chris Issac and David Bowie have all called the hotel home on their L.A. jaunts.
Historically, “it’s been the leading venue for ‘wilding’ rock groups,” said David Wild, a senior West Coast editor for Rolling Stone Magazine. “It’s kind of a high-rent crash pad.”
Braggadocio about the hotel’s history from its own management, however, is a major shift from just a year ago.
With its lease about to expire, management had all but decided the location and facility had strayed too far from the chain’s reputation.
“We typically don’t compete with the Holiday Inn or Ramada, but were forced to based on the condition of the rooms,” Koffler said. Years of use and abuse combined with half-hearted renovations had left the rooms “dated, drab,” he said.
Prices were kept flat in an effort to keep occupancy up, and longtime guests complained of the hotel’s condition. “We started going after different markets,” Koffler said, targeting bus tours instead of wealthy European and Asian travelers.
The Sunset Strip, too, had fallen into a funk, with the 16-block stretch from Crescent Heights Boulevard to Doheny Road no longer a hot spot.
Evolving from a movie star hang-out in the 1940s, to a night club hub in the 1950s, to the center of West Coast rock ‘n’ roll from the 1960s through the 1980s, the Strip had become a descending, congested and in some parts seedy landmark.
“It was really pitiful,” said Wild. “It was the end of the hairband era, when bands had to pay to play” in music venues.
However, the Strip shows signs of a comeback, highlighted by the Sunset Specific Plan, a commercial development schedule adopted last March by the City of West Hollywood.
The historic, if dilapidated, Chateau Marmont has been sold and renovated, with the hotel’s bar becoming a trendy watering hole. Billboard Magazine opened its Billboard Live nightclub a few blocks away last summer; and the House of Blues, opened in 1994 directly across the street from the Hyatt, has emerged as one of the area’s top venues for live music.
“The whole area is revitalizing as a destination,” Koffler said.
The Hyatt hopes to ride that wave to success.
With a $9,000-per room renovation, a new rooftop swimming pool and patio, and plans for a film industry-themed restaurant, Koffler said, the hotel is looking “for the best of both worlds”: Keeping the rock ‘n’ roll attitude it has grown up on and reaching back out to well-heeled clientele.
Room prices will correspondingly increase over the course of the next year from the current $90 per night to $120, he said.
“All I’m thinking about is ‘What will make us hot?'” Koffler said. “That’s why I’m here.”