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The Overbooked Hotel

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Los Angeles school officials, history buffs, and members of the local business community are all engaged in a desperate battle to reserve the same hotel.

Not just any hotel, but the Ambassador Hotel, known to historians as the spot where the rich and glamorous from Hollywood's heyday once frolicked, and where, in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. It is a site preservationists want saved.

Meanwhile, its current owners, an investment group called the Anglo-Wilshire Partners, see the property as a potential commercial development that could revitalize an area in dire need of a financial boost.

But Los Angeles Unified School District officials view the 23.5-acre lot as the perfect place to build a 2,000-student high school.

According to Diana Munatones, a district spokesman, administrators have announced plans to obtain the 68-year-old hotel--closed since January--by exercising the right of eminent domain, which permits any public agency to claim private property.

The hotel would then have to be razed, the school district says, because the buildings would not meet earthquake standards.

The Wilshire neighborhood is badly in need of a high school, Ms. Munatones said. An estimated 8,000 to 9,000 students in the area currently are bused to distant schools.

The Ambassador site is ideal for a new school, she argued, because no local residents would be displaced.

The entire plan--including purchase of the property--would cost about $100 million.

A historic-preservation group, however, has filed a lawsuit to force the district to consider saving the building, which, it contends, does meet earthquake standards.

Jay Rounds, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, charged that the district has not adequately studied the possibility of using the hotel in its plan.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 18, seeks to force the district to conduct an environmental impact study of the site, in compliance with the state Environmental Quality Act.

If the project is determined not to affect the environment negatively, Mr. Rounds said, the hotel could safely meet the district's need for a school and should be saved for its historic value.

As of last week, the district had not yet responded to the suit.

The Anglo-Wilshire Partners, meanwhile, have announced plans for a large-scale commercial and residential project on the land, which may include rehabilitating the hotel to its former glory.

That plan would please an organization of local property owners, which, together with city officials, last year commissioned a study to determine the socioeconomic needs of the busy Wilshire Boulevard strip that includes the hotel.

The study concluded that a commercial project such as that planned by the Anglo-Wilshire Partners would greatly benefit the area, according to Wayne Ratkovich, a Los Angeles developer and chairman of the group.

In addition, Nate Holden, who represents the area on the city council, also opposes the school district's efforts, saying that a new school in the neighborhood would be nothing more than a "graffiti mill," and that Wilshire Boulevard traffic is already too congested.

"Mr. Holden has suggested another option," said Paulette Jones, a spokesman for the city councilman. "If district officials are so desperate for a school in that area, why not convert their administrative offices, which are located only about seven miles from the hotel?"

Despite these and other proposed options, school officials seem determined to go through with their plans for the hotel site.

"We're going full steam ahead," Ms. Munatones said. "We need a school in that area, and this is the place for it."--lj

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