Thursday, March 7, 2024

Welcome to the Birthplace of the Oscars

Wendall--every other Thursday

Since the 96th Academy Awards are airing this weekend, I thought it might be a good time to post about the place they were born: The Biltmore Hotel (now the Millennium Biltmore) in downtown Los Angeles. 


The Galleria of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel
The Founding Banquet for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, 1927.

Happily, since my journalist husband, James Bartlett, has often written about the hotel and is somewhat of an expert on its history, he’s allowed me to quote from some of his pieces, so the quotes in italics are his.


The Biltmore was actually the first home of the Oscars. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was founded over lunch in the Crystal Ballroom in May 1927, and it’s said that MGM art director Cedric Gibbons sketched the design for the Oscar statue on a napkin.”


It's said the original design for the Oscar statuette was sketched on a napkin in the Biltmore's Crystal Ballroom.


“Eight Oscar ceremonies were held in the Biltmore Bowl room in the 1930s and early 1940s, and in 1977 Bob Hope hosted the Academy’s 50th Anniversary here.”


Oscar Banquet 1937. So many famous faces. Look for Henry Fonda and Walt Disney down front.

Oscar Banquet 1939.

Best Actor winner Clark Gable in the ballroom in 1935.

Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis winning in 1939.

The hotel opened its doors to the public on October 2, 1923 and was considered “as beautiful, as colorful, as vibrant as the city with which its destiny is linked.”  

Opening program from 1923.
The Crystal Ballroom, empty, in 1923.


“Visitors and guests still marvel at its murals, marble floors, wood paneling, frescoes, fountains, and chandeliers, and it is said you can find 1000 “Biltmore Angels” (representing the City of Angels) everywhere from the carpet to the ceilings.”


Angels, angels everywhere.

Including on the glass door.

Rendezvous Court from the stairs. It was the original lobby.

Looking the other way. I get to stand on the staircase Betty Draper came down in Mad Men.

The current lobby used to be a restaurant.


The original Gallery Bar. Gimlets, anyone?

You’ve seen glimpses of this amazing hotel in more films and television shows than you may realize. It’s appeared in the original Ghostbusters, Chinatown, Vertigo, Beverly Hills Cop, The Sting, Splash, Bugsy, Spider Man, and In the Line of Fire, and this year’s Oscar nominee Oppenheimer, to name a few. 


Peter Venkman has arrived!

They used the side of the hotel to shoot the scene where Evelyn Mulwray hires Jake Gittes in Chinatown.

Eddie Murphy checks out the scene in Beverly Hills Cop.

It’s also stood in for a myriad of locations in Mad Men, Bosch, The Catch, Glee, The West Wing, Columbo, and dozens of other shows. 

Mad Men shot all around the hotel.

Harry Bosch waiting for trouble in the Gallery Bar.

And, though I hesitate to give Taylor Swift more oxygen than she already has, her music video “Delicate” was shot in the hotel and offers great views of the lobby, ballrooms, and central hallway. ( 

You can find a more complete list of Biltmore appearances by scrolling down on its Wiki page: (

It's also a part of Los Angeles history in many other ways. It dedicated its second floor for military personnel during WWII, hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1960—where John F. Kennedy was chosen as candidate—boasted a Beatles stay during their first US tour in 1964, and was headquarters for the Los Angeles Olympic committee in 1984.


JFK was nominated from here.

The hotel also has a crime—and crime fiction—connection, since it was here that the victim of Los Angeles's most famous unsolved murder, Elizabeth Short, was last seen alive on January 9, 1947. 


Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.

Her gruesome murder a few days later became Hollywood’s most notorious after she was nicknamed the "Black Dahlia." The Gallery Bar, which until about five years ago still felt like a place you could drink a gimlet with Raymond Chandler, now has mounted television screens which kill the illusion a bit, but its design is still stunning-- and you can lift a Black Dahlia cocktail to Elizabeth Short and the LA that used to be. 

The Black Dahlia cocktail: Citrus Vodka, Chambord, and Kahlua.

We were beyond privileged to be invited to its 100th anniversary black tie celebration in the Crystal Ballroom last October, where, as noted above, the idea for the Oscars was born. 

The stage in the Crystal Ballroom awaits its Big Band.

Getting ready in our room!

This involved our finding a tux for James in the local store “It's a Wrap!,” which features second hand film and television costumes, and my digging out a 1920s beaded top. The hotel was kind enough to give us a room. 

Our table.

The ceiling!

In addition to cocktails, dinner, and a live big band, the event sought to recreate the famous black and white photo of the ballroom's opening in 1923. We can't believe we are in it!

Biltmore opening Gala, 1923

100th Anniversary Gala 2023 (see red arrow).

If you’re visiting Los Angeles, I highly recommend a drink or high tea in the hotel, or better yet, a stay in this part of movie history.



  1. Fascinating. I might be passing through LA soon but have no idea what direction I'll be going in! I saw rin tin tins paws on the pavement so next time, it'll be high tea at this hotel.