Ace Hotel founder Alex Calderwood

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Above: Ace Hotel founder Alex Calderwood, portrait by Douglas Lyle Thompson. Below: A Salvation Army halfway house was reborn as the trendsetting 28-room Ace Hotel Seattle in 1999

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On the National Register of Historic Places, the 79-room Ace Hotel Portland occupies the former Clyde Hotel, which opened in 1912:

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The Ace Hotel New York occupies the 1904 building that once housed the Breslin Hotel. Its Michelin-starred restaurant The Breslin pays tribute:

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 A run-of-the-mill Howard Johnson motel in Palm Springs was converted to the 180-room Ace Hotel & Swim Club. Its on-site diner is a former Denny’s:

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Ace Man: Alex Calderwood

Friday, January 18th, 2013

By Joel Hoglund

It’s too bad a hardware store beat Alex Calderwood to the slogan “Ace is the place” because it seems to be the truth about the hotelier’s line of Ace Hotels. In Seattle, Portland, Palm Springs, and New York, the Ace is a magnet—not just for travelers, but also for the locals that turn up at the property sans room or reservation. They come because their favorite DJ is spinning in the lobby, or because their hairstylist cuts there, or because a night at the Ace couldbring anything from an Easy Rider-themed pool party to Chloë Sevigny staging a reading of Pussy Riot’s letters from prison. When guests check in at an Ace, they’re not just getting to hang at a hip hotel; they’re getting to experience what it’s like to be a part of that city’s local culture.

“In the past I’ve checked into corporate hotels, and if you squinted your eyes, it’s like you could have been anywhere,” Calderwood says. “I think when you’re at one of our hotels, you really feel like you’re actually in that city and connecting with locals there.” This sense of feeling connected to the city’s culture is largely dependent upon the design. Guest rooms look more like your coolest friend’s apartment than a hotel room, thanks to their blend of Americana décor, vintage furniture, and sharp original artwork. And extra touches like free bikes and in-room record players with staff-curated vinyl make it easy to forget you’re even at a hotel.

“The reason Ace feels authentic to people is that it’s actually our voice, and it’s actually things that we are genuinely into,” Calderwood says. Things they are actually into… and that others looking to capitalize on Ace’s cachet have tried to rip off. “I think it’s really unfortunate when other brands don’t follow their own ethos. It’s just sort of lazy when people are trying to directly create a derivative. It’s a lost opportunity.”

And where others miss opportunities, Calderwood seems to seize them. Like the opportunity to turn the landmark United Artists Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles into the latest Ace Hotel property, scheduled to open in late 2013. “It’s an amazing site,” he says. Designed in a Spanish Gothic style by master theater architect C. Howard Crane and built in 1927 by the founders of UA, the building will retain the ornate character of its Old Hollywood days despite its new life as a hotel hotspot. “There’s a 1,600-seat movie palace that is in pristine condition,” says Calderwood. For the last 20 years or so it was used as a church and we’re going to reactivate it as a movie palace and a forum for talks and bands and events.”

L.A.-based interior design group Commune (the ones behind the mid-century look of the Ace Palm Springs) created the design for the new L.A. property. Although it would be easy to replicate any of the other successful Ace hotel designs, the team is instead creating a look that truly feels like home to Los Angeles. For Calderwood, that’s what traveling and staying in a hotel is all about. “I’ve been traveling a lot this year,” he says, “and I really appreciate finding the little details of the local design vernacular, or the tiny architectural details [of a place] because there are subtle nuances in different cultures. We always look to become a thread in the fabric of the community.”

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