LOS ANGELES >> The Bank of Italy once owned one of the finest office buildings in downtown Los Angeles, a 12-story neoclassical monument built in 1923 with towering Doric columns, an ornate, gold-ceilinged lobby and marble floors.
By the late 20th century, however, it had fallen into neglect and for several years it was a shuttered eyesore — before reopening in January as the ritzy NoMad hotel, where rooms typically cost more than $400 a night.
In its most elegant restaurant, guests seated on a mezzanine overlooking the grand old bank lobby dine on foie gras, suckling pig and black truffle tarts.
The return to glory of the temple of finance created by pioneering California banker A.P. Giannini at Seventh and Olive streets reflects the economic comeback of downtown and the rush to provide a unique kind of lodging for a new wave of visitors drawn to the reviving city center.
These days, older office buildings are particularly prized by operators of personality-laden boutique hotels intended to appeal to travelers who shun the well-known chain brands that dominate the hospitality industry.
“I love great architecture,” said billionaire investor Ron Burkle, who had his eye on Giannini’s former Southern California headquarters for a long time before buying it in 2015 to turn into a hotel.
Raised in Los Angeles, Burkle said he used to mourn how the city’s historic buildings fell out of favor in the latter decades of the 20th century as businesses left them behind in favor of new towers on Bunker Hill and near the Harbor Freeway.
“People jumped over everything they already had and built a new city,” Burkle said. “I thought it was sad. Now, thank God they did.”
Operators of downtown hotels such as the NoMad, Freehand and Ace draw on the character of city landmark buildings erected nearly a century ago to create a sense of history and mystique in their modern inns.
The Standard Hotel, created out of a former 1950s office building in the financial district in 2002, proved that young, hip travelers looking for a bargain would stay downtown and that a rooftop bar could sell oceans of alcohol.
But it was the quick success of the trendy Ace Hotel Los Angeles that opened in 2014 on a forlorn stretch of Broadway that galvanized investors. The theater and office complex-turned hotel built in 1927 by United Artists founders Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith drew a sophisticated crowd willing to spend lavishly on rooms, food and drinks.
The developers who bought the run-down building for $11 million in 2011 sold it as the Ace Hotel for $103 million in 2015 after spending an undisclosed amount on renovations. Its appeal as a lodging and entertainment destination for tourists and locals alike encouraged investment in the blocks nearby.
On Broadway near the Ace, the boutique Hoxton and Downtown L.A. Proper hotels are being created by separate developers in brick-clad towers dating to the 1920s.
Another boutique on the way is Hotel Figueroa near L.A. Live, set to reopen this month after a multimillion-dollar makeover meant to lift the 1920s-vintage inn from down-market to deluxe — rooms are listed at more than $400 a night.
“An older building gives you a lot of cues and signals about what it wants to be,” New York hotelier Andrew Zobler said. “It gives you a story.”
The NoMad’s design theme is California-meets-Northern Italian, Zobler said, including a Venetian-style coffee bar where patrons drink standing up and handsome finishes and food service by New York restaurateur Will Guidara and award-winning Swiss chef Daniel Humm.
The vast lobby at the NoMad, where bank tellers once cashed paychecks, would have been impractically large for a residential building, but works as an inviting space for the hotel.
“Now it’s one great living room,” Arnold said.