Ace Hotel, LA: Alex Calderwood's Sensational Last Act

The Portland-based hotelier's downtown Los Angeles outpost captures the place-making skill of "the most influential creative director of the times."

By Zach Dundas February 18, 2014

In November 2013, Ace Hotel Group founder Alex Calderwood died in London at the age of 47. His death—of causes yet undisclosed—came amid a torrid time for his company, which runs its internationally famed (and constantly imitated) mini-chain of artfully crafted, Zeitgeist-channelling hotels from a small "atelier" in Portland's Old Town. Building from its acclaimed West Coast base (Seattle, Portland, Palm Springs) and a New York franchise that is the de facto office for half of Manhattan's creative class, Ace had gone international. The stunning-looking American Trade Hotel opened in Panama City; Calderwood died at the just-opened Ace in Shoreditch, East London.

I never met Calderwood. But like much of Portland, I've watched as his company's hotel here—right outside our office windows here at the Monthly—both defined and redefined the city's cultural energies. As we've reported, he turned the Ace brand into a collaborative product-design laboratory and, in general, created an environment where Portland creativity and enterprise can shine. (Witness the immersive annual Content fashion event, which turns the hotel into a designer-driven alternate world.) Above all, the Portland Ace expresses the talent that Calderwood (with and through his team of collaborators and co-workers, of course) brought to crafting places that feel, in and of themselves, like events.

Calderwood's death inspired various retrospectives on his work and life. The Ace website offers a heartfelt tribute page. A first-person appreciation from Seattle's The Stranger delves into his early days in that city's club scene. But as our slide show above (prepared by Rachel Ritchie) suggests, perhaps the best memorial to Calderwood's vision and ambition stands in downtown Los Angeles: a new Ace in an atmospheric 1920s building/theater, at the edge of a district one writer dubs "America's Next Great City."

The LA Ace's debut garnered a lot of coverage; the new issue of T Magazine, for instance, looks at Calderwood's collaboration with Commune Design on the project. (Portland Monthly will have its own take in our April issue.) But for my money, the most affecting assessment of the new hotel and Calderwood's legacy, so far, comes in this sweeping blog post from Wieden + Kennedy's John Jay, a longtime friend and collaborator of the Ace founder. Jay writes:

"I used to tell Calvin Klein in the 80’s, that he was the most influential Creative Director of the times, with a vision and influence far beyond the fashion industry. Similarly, Alex had an uncanny feel for the pulse of contemporary society and he put that intuition to use by bringing new ideas and people together, changing entire blocks and neighborhoods...

"[H]e was a giant mentor to new generation of young talent; often those who did not fit into the expectations of the status-quo. Thus, his greatest legacy may not be his hotels but in the organization he has built. Through the Ace team, Alex’s greatest work is yet to come… these extraordinary believers and talented management teams now take over the reins of leadership and inspiration, each carrying the vision of Alex Calderwood forward."

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