History of Santa Monica’s First Lady

Some stories start with a bang, a shout, a crashing of waves. Others begin quietly. And some simply pick up where others left off.

This is a story that starts with the dream of Mrs. Rosamond Borde, renowned California hotelier, and ends with…well, that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start where this story begins.

The roaring 1920s and early 1930s marked the beginning of the golden age of hospitality in California, and Los Angeles became the go-to destination for those seeking the new, the exciting, and the distinctly different. Inspired by the zeitgeist and determined to make her mark on the California coastline, Mrs. Borde commissioned celebrated architect of the time, Mr. M. Eugene Durfee, to design a hotel of grand proportions, dramatic in appearance but with a cozy, intimate feel — the ultimate in a stylish hideaway destination for the rich, the famous, and the discerning.

Inspired by both the Romanesque Revival and Art Deco movements, Mr. Durfee’s architectural aesthete and the impeccable taste of the proprietress proved to be a heady mix and, in 1933, The Georgian opened her doors to the Santa Monica sunshine. Her restaurant and bar, The Red Griffin, gained quite the reputation amongst the rich and famous (and infamous), with guests like Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, “Bugsy” Siegel, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Rose Kennedy all seeking refuge and a stiff drink within this notoriously exclusive secret. The perfect spot for clandestine meetings, secluded weekend escapes, and parties that went well past sunset (and indeed, sometimes until sunrise), it was a sanctuary of sorts, a place to retreat from the cameras, the glare of the spotlight, and the ever-hungry eyes of the outside world.

Yet outside those faded blue walls, the world rumbled on and with America’s entrance into WWII, Santa Monica was suddenly at the center of a technological and industrial boom. The nearby Douglas Aircraft Factory began to churn out planes for the war effort (after building the first plane to circumnavigate the globe) and after a long day, many women workers could be found, sitting at the hotel bar holding court with their male counterparts, resplendent in pants and headscarves...and sometimes with a little engine grease. The hotel also housed both servicemen and aircraft designers throughout WWII, along with a rag-tag bunch of gamblers, who, of an evening, would motorboat offshore to try their luck in the casino barges such as the SS Rex in Santa Monica Bay.

There was also a beauty parlor, barber shop, and playground for the children of high society onsite, which at the time placed the hotel at the height of modern design. But they don’t really feature in this story.

Nor does the remodeling of the hotel in the 1950s, followed by a sale, then another sale, and then a renovation in the early 1990s because those don’t really make for much of a good story either, do they?

Not that this is the end of the story.
In fact, this happens to be the beginning of the next chapter.

Today, The Georgian has been restored to her rightful place as the jewel on the California coastline…just as she was when Mrs. Borde was at the helm. And while walls may not talk, that doesn’t mean they don’t listen.

With every new guest comes a new tale. Meaning there are many more stories to be told and many more secrets just waiting to unfold.

 

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