Bernstein distills the Ambassador's value to one word:
"Resonance," he says.
"I could wax eloquent all day about what it means to the city. People honeymooned there, they went to the Cocoanut Grove, they had their prom or went to some other major community events at the site. It played a central part to the lives of several generations of Angelenos."
And then it became something else, in the 1960s and '70s: "A site of great meaning," Bernstein says, "something much more than a hotel."
Do Not Disturb
Nothing marks the spot on the gray concrete floor on which Bobby Kennedy lay sprawled, bleeding, almost beatifically posed in those black-and-white photographs, then clutching the rosary placed in his hands by a kitchen employee.
The room is deadbolted and off-limits.
Even the way the calligraphy of the "Ambassador hotel" looked on the podium in the Embassy Ballroom that night has a whiff of resonance, the place where Kennedy spoke to a packed and sweaty gathering of his devoted followers, shortly after 11:30 p.m. on June 4, 1968, when the votes were mostly counted and he was declared the winner: This way, senator.
Where the end of the Ambassador's story begins.
Where he was shot three times, including a close-range bullet at the base of his skull. Where Irwin Stroll, 17, was shot in the knee and ABC producer William Weisel, 30, was shot in the torso and Ira Goldstein, 19, a wire service copy boy, was shot in the left thigh; Elizabeth Evans, 43, was hit by a bullet that did not fully penetrate her skull, and Paul Schrade, 43, a Kennedy campaign aide, was shot between the eyes. Everyone but Kennedy lived. He was taken first to Central Receiving Hospital, a dozen blocks away, then to Good Samaritan, where he died the next day.
To have been in the Ambassador that night puts dozens of names and faces, famous and not so famous, into a kind of "Guernica" mural of tragic despair, spilled cocktails, pandemonium, the 1960s. Ted Kennedy was there, as were Kennedy sisters Jean and Pat, and a trusted circle of advisers. Milton Berle was there. Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Roger Mudd and a gaggle of Kennedy's favored campaign journalists were all there. The football player Rosey Grier and Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson were there, acting both as bodyguards and implicit symbols of Kennedy's stature with minority voters. The writer George Plimpton was there, and among the men who wrestled Sirhan to the ground.
In his 1969 book "RFK: A Memoir," the journalist Jack Newfield wrote of "this awful sound" coming from the people in the Embassy Ballroom just before midnight:
"And the moan became a wail until the ballroom sounded like a hospital that has been bombed; the sound was somehow the sound of the twice wounded. . . . Girls in red and blue campaign ribbons, and RFK plastic boaters, were on their knees praying and weeping. . . . A college kid with an RFK peace button was screaming, '[Expletive] this country, [expletive] this country."
The school district plans to memorialize Kennedy no matter which development plan it chooses for the site, perhaps naming the school after him.
At a news conference outside the hotel last November in which a community coalition called for the hotel to be demolished in favor of a new school, Schrade called the Ambassador a "wreck of a building," according to the Los Angeles Times, and said a new school in a neighborhood of immigrants would be a more fitting tribute to Kennedy, especially if it contains some archival material on the assassination and somehow incorporates the late senator's social idealism into the curriculum.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
An April 18 Style article incorrectly described the shooting injury suffered by Paul Schrade, who was wounded on the night Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. Schrade was shot in the upper center of his forehead, not between the eyes. Also, the approximate time of the shooting was incorrect in the article. It occurred just after midnight, not just before.