Built in the 1920s by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Moroccan-inspired Hotel Figueroa has been a pinnacle of Los Angeles culture and history for nine decades; from housing tourists to hosting movie sets, the establishment has never lost relevance in downtown LA.
Earlier this year, Urban Lifestyle Hotels and Green Oak Real Estate purchased Hotel Figueroa, and last month, the hotel closed for a $30 million renovation focused on reducing the number of rooms and revamping its Spanish Mediterranean inspirations.
To most, the Fig is a kitschy test-of-time-surviving hotel with Hollywood connections, but few are aware of its origin.
The YWCA was founded in 1855 in England by Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts as a support system for young women. The organization and its mission eventually spread throughout the old continent and to the United States where a Los Angeles office was founded in 1893. The LA YWCA quickly grew in number, giving origin to social clubs, support groups and a society of women with the purpose of helping other women.
As more and more women progressed professionally, lodging places where they would not be scrutinized or looked upon apprehensively for travelling alone grew in demand. In 1925, the LA YWCA bought land and raised money to build the Figueroa Hotel. Construction finished in 1926 and the hotel was dedicated on August 14 of that year.
The Fig was ground-breaking; never before had there been an establishment of its kind available exclusively to women—owned, managed and financed entirely by women. According to the hotel’s website, at the time it was built, Hotel Figueroa was one of the largest women-owned real estate investments in the United States.
The top nine floors were restricted exclusively to businesswomen and their children, while the first three floors were made available to men and their families. Maude N. Boldin was hired as the first managing director of the hotel and Florence Gaskell and Ruth E. Allen ran the coffee shop. The hotel was successful in boosting the social and professional lives of women. Various famous women lodged at the Fig when they were in town, and women benefitted immensely from a place and sector of society in which they were allowed and encouraged to thrive.
The YWCA was eventually unable to keep up with the expenses of the hotel and ownership changed hands. All 12 floors were made available to men and a male manager was hired.
The Fig remained an important place for women however, a constant site for meetings and events, and remains a reminder of the power of united women and the importance of this unity to the progress of our social and professional cultures.