Celebrating my Birthday at the Infamous Chateau Marmont
For my birthday this year Patrick and I spent the weekend at the famed Chateau Marmont. While the Chateau has become a well known for a variety of reasons, for me it’s important because it’s one more place linked to my favorite musician, Gram Parsons.
Built to resemble a French chateau, Chateau Marmont looms alluring and mysterious ever so slightly upon a hill overlooking the bustle of iconic Sunset Strip. It’s synonymous with Hollywood stars, old and new alike. From Jean Harlow to Marilyn Monroe to Sharon Tate to Jim Morrison to Johnny Depp to Lindsay Lohan, the Chateau is where tawdry affairs, drunken parties, and the death of a comedy legend have taken place, and it’s been in countless films and TV shows, including one of my favorite films from last year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Simply put, it’s pure Hollywood.
Originally conceived as an apartment complex by Fred Horowitz, Chateau Marmont, dubbed such after the street it is located on, was designed by William Douglas and Arnold A. Weitzman after the Chateau d’Ambroise in the Loire Valley in France. Vanity Fair lays claim that the Chateau welcomed its first residents in February of 1929, while the Chateau’s own website says 1927. It’s only fitting that the hotel’s birth is elusive and debatable, as it is a reoccurring theme throughout. Sadly mere months after opening, America’s stock market crashed. Amid the Great Depression Horowitz sold the building to Albert E. Smith, who transformed it into the hotel we know today in 1932, just in time for the arrival of the summer Olympic Games.
Due to its original purpose as an apartment complex, it feels rather awkward to arrive, lacking a traditional entry and lobby. Yet it is all part of its secretive charm. We pulled it, with our car and luggage taken by a polite valet, and were instructed to make our way up one floor to check in. Entering the lobby is like arriving in the living room of a plush mansion. Velvet couches, rich dark furniture abound, with a small check in desk crammed into nook. We received our keys, attached to a green silk tassel, and went up to our junior suite, room 37. It’s easy to see why celebrities love it, because after checking in, you never once have to pass through the lobby again in your comings and goings, making it an ideal retreat.
In the 1930s starlet Jean Harlow set the precedent for the hotel’s notorious reputation. With her third husband, Harlow rented two units, meaning they could more or less live their lives without each other, which Harlow did, carrying on her affair with Clark Gable within the Chateau’s walls. When the 1940s arrived, the hotel was sold to Erin Brettauer, a banker who fled Nazi Germany and funded anti-Nazi resistance groups. Under Brettauer, the Chateau grew with new bungalows and a pool. It is in one of these bungalows that Nicholas Ray lived for several years, beginning in 1952, where he rehearsed Rebel without a Cause, and carried on his relationship with the 16 year old Rebel star Natalie Wood. Which bungalow? Well, that’s up for debate. Many sources say number two, but I think I trust the photography matching of friend, photographer, and Chateau enthusiast Dave DeCaro that it is more likely number one.
The glamorous movie stars and their affairs of the 1940s and 50s gave way to the rockers of the swinging 60s and groovy 70s, with the likes of Led Zeppelin (the accounts of them riding their motorcycles through the lobby seem to be nothing more than an urban legend, but they were photographed near the fountain in what is now the restaurant) and Jim Morrison. Morrison partied hard at the Chateau, various sources tell of him falling or jumping from either the roof or a balcony, and another of him attempting to enter his room via a drainpipe and falling two stories.
Included among the variety of rock stars that took up residency at the Chateau was my favorite musician, Gram Parsons. Gram shared a house with fellow Flying Burrito Brothers band member, Chris Hillman, but Parsons later moved out, arriving at the Chateau in the summer of 1969, and when reflecting on that time period, photographer Eve Babitz described the Chateau as a “den of iniquity” and it “seemed to have five hundred years of history” both of which are understandable, with its uproarious guests and French castle feel. Andee Nathanson, another photographer who took photos of Gram described the place as “a well located rooming house where the inmates were running the institution.”
Normally, I would have wanted to stay where Gram did, but it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty which room was his, and he stayed here at least twice, the first of which he shared a suite with Tony Foutz. Those who lived through the 60s and 70s tend to have hazy memories, due to rampant drug use, but Gram and Tony’s room number was memorable, 4F, the “unfit for service” designation, which Gram received when he was drafted in 1966. The secret to his draft dodging success? Leading up to the physical he stayed up for three days and three nights, and then, the morning of, took LSD, resulting in a completely dazed and loopy Gram who was found in a broom closet wearing just his underwear. Eventually, the Chateau renumbered their rooms, and the number and letter combo was ditched. When we received our key, we were told our room was 37, however our key was stamped with 3G. We also learned there were no zero rooms meaning no 20, 30, 40, etc. So, if common sense were applied, 4A would be 41, meaning 4F would be 46, however a Vanity Fair article notes his room as being 47. Gram and Tony’s room has been described as a “suite” and, according to Dave DeCaro, the room we stayed in, 37, which is billed as a “junior suite” would have the same layout as 47 above. So perhaps there is merit to the room 47 claim by Vanity Fair.
While in residence at the Chateau Gram was thrown out of the Flying Burrito Brothers due to his selfish and unpredictable behavior, and set out to record his first solo album, GP, in September of 1972. The Chateau also became the backdrop for the gatefold style album cover, with Gram photographed by Barry Feinstein (who also photographed the likes of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and George Harrison) in the lobby.
Back in Gram’s day, the peaked alcoves of the lobby were vacant, with one having a set of doors, and bare bones furniture, but today the alcoves are swathed in drapes, and furniture abounds. I located a chair and posed near the alcove with the least amount of furniture near it. Upon closer inspection, peeking behind the curtains and locating the doors, I determined Gram sat in front of the second from the left alcove.
In April of 1973, Gram moved out of the Chateau and into a home in Laurel Canyon. However just a few months later, in July, his home suffered a fire and he moved back into the Chateau. His second stay wouldn’t last very long, as he would pass away at the Joshua Tree Inn of an overdose that September.
By 1976 the hotel’s notoriety led it to be dubbed a Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Landmark, but it was soon thrust into the spotlight for a much darker reason. In 1982 actor John Belushi of Saturday Night Live fame was in staying in bungalow three when he died of a heroin and cocaine overdose. Paparazzi and reporters descended upon the Chateau, photographing Belushi’s sheet covered body being carried away.
Despite the celebrity clientele, by the late 1970s the hotel was beginning to look rundown, with peeling paint, warn out carpets and springs poking through sofas. With the arrivals of the 90s, a new owner swooped in, André Balazs, purchasing the beloved yet dilapidated hotel in either 1990 or 1992, sources vary. When Balazs took over, there were cries to not change anything, that the peeling paint, worn out sofas, and cracked tile was part of the charm, with photographer Helmut Newton saying that he “loved the Gothic nature of the disrepair.” Well, the Chateau has aged since Balazs took the wheel, and I would say that there is still a small amount of elegant decay with flaking paint and chipped original tiles in the bathroom.
Balazs opened the restaurant portion in 2003, finally allowing those not wanting to drop big bucks to sleep here an opportunity to experience this legendary location. I can say that the burger and truffle parmesan fries are hands down some of the best I have ever had.
In March of 2020, when COVID was just beginning to creep in, somewhere between 248 and 250 (sources vary) employees were laid off, supposedly leaving only 9 at the helm. Discussion of this being an anti-union move were made, as staff had recently tried to unionize, with some being fired. Then there were claims of sexual harassment and even a racial discrimination lawsuit, tensions were so high some celebrities even boycotted the property. Eventually a union deal with “unprecedented” benefits was made. Also amid the pandemic, Balazs prepared plans to make the Chateau a members-only club, and I thought my dreams of every staying here were shattered, but, thankfully, last year the idea was abandoned.
Articles love to lay claim that the “double poured concrete walls” make the rooms sound proof, but I’m here to say that they are in fact not. There was a party going on down the hall from us that was quite loud. That experience aside, the Chateau was delightful to stay in, as it simultaneously still exudes the Old Hollywood and rockstar vibes, which you can feel even before you set foot inside by simply gazing upon the shield shaped neon sign that points you to the garage. I hope to make a return visit one day, perhaps for a stay in either room 46 or 47! But I also very much want to stay in one of the bungalows.
Other famous residents include Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes (who stayed in the penthouse), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bette Davis, Billy Wilder, Anthony Perkins, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, Barbara Streisand, Buddy Hackett, Janis Joplin, Robert De Niro, and Rod Stewart.
Rest your head at the infamous Chateau Marmont at 8221 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Learn more, including booking your stay on their website. Just know, it’ll cost you a pretty penny. You can save some dough and book a dining reservation, which will gain you entry into the space where Gram took the photo for the cover of GP.
In the meantime, listen to my favorite song off of GP, “A Song For You.”
Notes on Photography
During my time recreating Gram’s cover shot, several employees walked by, saying nothing to me. However, upon exiting the living room/lobby area, a staff member informed me that they normally don’t allow for, and this where he just made a clicking/tisking noise, to which I honestly didn’t know how to interpret that. Photoshoots? Photos in general? Prior to arrival, we had made dining reservations, and in the e-mail for that it said no photos during our meal. And when we sat down to dine, the menu asks guests to refrain from taking photos and smoking. So, I interpreted that as no photography during meal times, but we took our photos in the lull between lunch and dinner, which is 3:00 to 6:00, and no one was around. Nor did I interpret the lobby area as a dining area, however, I eventually learned that the area actually serves as both lounge and dining room for the restaurant.
Furthermore, while we sat down to dinner, several people took photos and even used their flash. We refrained from any photography during our meal, hence dinner outfit photos taken in the room.
Personally, I think the Chateau, priding itself on its “haven” mentality, wants to keep their celebrity guests safe from those clamoring that celebrity selfie, sneaky or otherwise, and it’s easier to place a “no photography” notice on the menu, during a time when celebrities would be present. So, that being said, be cautious if you choose to visit.
Gram GP Inspired Ensemble
Hat: I can’t remember
Jacket: Buffalo Exchange with patch sewn on by my cobbler. Sadly the patch is no longer available.
Pants & Boots: Buffalo Exchange
Jewelry: Here and there
Casual Birthday Queen Ensemble
Crown: Gum’s Antique Mall, Hawaiian Gardens, California (but I found out it’s available on Amazon, and you can bet I’m gonna buy the other colors!)
Fur Coat: Country Roads Antiques, Orange, California
Blue Velvet Top & Necklace: Buffalo Exchange
Shoes: Classic Rock Couture
Knit Dinner Ensemble
Silver Knit Dress & Necklace: Buffalo Exchange
Swimsuit: Unique Vintage
Shoes: I can’t remember!
Birthday Queen Ensemble
Crown: Gum’s Antique Mall, Hawaiian Gardens, California (but I found out it’s available on Amazon, and you can bet I’m gonna buy the other colors!)
Dress: I honestly can’t remember!
Bates, Daniel and Crane, Emily. “Death in Bungalow No. 3.” Daily Mail, 25 April 2019.
Baum, Gary. “Rot at Hollywood’s ‘Playground’: Chateau Marmont Staff Allege Racial Discrimination, Sexual Misconduct and Neglectful Management.” The Hollywood Reporter, 16 September 2019.
“Chateau Marmont: The Story of an L.A. Icon.” Discover Los Angeles, 14 March 2019.
Dobson, Jim. “Famed Chateau Marmont Hotel In Hollywood Abandons Plans As A Members-Only Property.” Forbes, 26 August 2022.
Gonzales, Xochitl. “The Luxury Dilemma.” The Atlantic. 30 July 2019.
Kudler, Adrian Glick. “A totally incomplete history of the trouble at the Chateau Marmont.” Curbed Los Angeles, 30 July 2019.
Levy, Shawn. “L.A. Confidential: The History of Secrecy at Chateau Marmont.” The Agenda, 24 January 2020.
Meyer, David N. Twenty Thousand Roads. Villard Books, 2007. Print.
Rozzo, Mark. “Secrets of the Chateau Marmont.” Vanity Fair, 4 February 2019.
“The Chateau Marmont’s Place in Hollywood History.” NPR, 18 May 2019.
Leave a Comment!
Having trouble commenting? Contact me
8 comments on “Celebrating my Birthday at the Infamous Chateau Marmont”
Loved this! I never knew that photo of Gram was at the hotel! This place is pure Hollywood magic. I have not stayed here YET but dined in the fabulous restaurant and happened to run into Dave DeCaro there (which you already know but I have to mention it here too!). After Dave gave us a quick tour we rode down in the tiny elevator with Mathew M. clutching a huge tequila bottle. Alright, alright, alright!
It is TOTALLY worth going just for the restaurant so I’m glad you got to do that and have such a fun experience! I hope you get to stay one day!
Very interesting post and sounds like a good celebration destination.
I think our post about visiting the motel connected with Gram Parson’s death was the first post of yours I read. I have enjoyed many of your posts since.
Thanks to you and Gram.
Thank you! Stay tuned, I’m working on a Southern California guide of Gram haunts!
Great job, Janey – you nailed it in words and photos. So glad I was able to join you and Patrick for lunch that day!!
Thank you! And, yes! It was a true delight to spend time with you and thank you so much for the tour! I can’t wait to return!