David A. Keeps visits L.A.'s Sunset Tower Hotel" name="description">
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Historic Boutique Hotels

Catherine Ledner The recently renovated Sunset Tower, an Art Deco landmark, in Los Angeles.

Photo: Catherine Ledner

Fortune's rooms have a relaxed, tawny palette. His brass-trimmed walnut furniture is a more substantial version of populist designer Paul ­McCobb's 1950's collections for Calvin; his upholstered pieces make use of decorator silks and velvets; there are curtains that can be drawn to conceal wall-mounted plasma TV's.

Klein learned his trade under Bernard Goldberg, a pioneer of the boutique hotel industry, whose New York properties included the Shoreham and Roger Williams. When Klein was a child he was "freakishly obsessed" with hotels, and after graduating from college he wangled an interview with Goldberg. "I told him I would run his business for him, and he showed me the door," Klein recalls. "I was so upset I went right over to one of his hotels and became the only bellhop in New York who wasn't an actor." He worked his way up, becoming a front-desk clerk and then manager of housekeeping ("probably the most important job in any hotel"), and finally fulfilled his bold promise to Goldberg by working with him in the creation of a little empire.

Klein has discovered that the Sunset Tower will require all of his prior hotel expertise and more. Its location and views are enviable, but unlike many nearby hotels, it has no appreciable grounds. The terraced pool area, which overlooks a steep downhill slope, is being reconfigured this winter. Piero Morovich, the chef at hot spot Ammo, has been brought in to create a menu for the restaurant. At night, the lobby lounge softly swings to Page Cavenaugh's live piano music or Sinatra recordings from the forties and fifties.

When all is said and done, Klein is attempting to deliver a level of service and ambience that is distinctive yet dignified. His reference points come from a bygone era of travel exemplified by white-glove service, stickers on steamer trunks, and early-20th-century men's clubs with accommodations available to privileged guests. In a city defined by presumptuousness, Klein hopes the Sunset Tower will succeed as a retreat from red carpets and velvet ropes—neither a Hilton, nor a place where you might encounter one.

David A. Keeps is the Los Angeles correspondent for Travel + Leisure.

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