A Star is Reborn in Santa Monica: The Hotel Shangri-la

1939. The year that Gone With The Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and The Wizard of Oz became Hollywood classics.The economy was recovering from the Great Depression and glamour–in the true sense of the word–prevailed.

Another classic that drew applause and appreciation and had its dramatic opening that year is Hotel Shangrila in Santa Monica, CA. This exquisite 71-room luxury hotel, of which 35 of the accommodations are suites, is still “wowing” guests who come from near and far to relax and vacation in style.

Hotel Shangri-la

For anyone who has visited Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, the architecture of Hotel Shangrila stands out. The building is an authentic Streamline Moderne design from the latter part of the Art Deco period, and one of a few rare examples of this style in California.

“Our hotel is an architectural gem and a landmark,” says Henri Birmele, general manager. “But it is so much more. We continue to be a popular hideaway for a wide variety of guests from presidents and celebrities to artists, tastemakers, insiders and world travelers, and everyone in-between who wants to indulge themselves for a few days, weeks or even months.”

Hotel Shangri-la

Birmele notes that the hotel is completing its restoration, adding finishing touches representing both the Art Moderne and earlier Art Deco periods. Among these touches are a 1939 cobalt blue Chase Martini Set reflecting the tone for this post depression era, full of hope and lavish, swanky social gatherings. An original Erté adorns the wall of one of the suites. Authentic American pottery from such makers as Roseville and Weller graces shelves. Punctuating the moderne lines of suites are a statuette by Frankart, a centerpiece by Kensington, and compotes by Farber Brothers with ruby red, amber, and cobalt blue glass, characteristic hues of the day.

There is no mistaking the clean horizontal lines of the exterior. While the structure is historic, the feel is contemporary—clean, neat, white. The building is also highly functional, with tiered floors allowing outdoor access and ocean views for many of the rooms and suites.

Hotel Shangri-la

“Almost all of the accommodations enjoy unobstructed Pacific Ocean views — to the south, facing beaches and Catalina Island and to the north, Malibu and west, as far as the eye can see,” adds Birmele. “We like to say we have quite a breathtaking front yard.” Located across the street from Palisades Park, the prime location in Santa Monica, the hotel is centered on the 20-mile-long stretch fronting Santa Monica Bay. The luxury boutique hotel is also just a few blocks from Santa Monica’s famed pier, premium shopping and celebrated restaurants, and is a short drive to Los Angeles International Airport.

All of the rooms and suites have been painstakingly updated and great care has been taken to maintain the original design and sense of timelessness. It is not uncommon for guests to come for long stays, given that nearly one-half are one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and larger suites and many with full modern gourmet kitchens and private balconies. Each guestroom is equipped with high speed wireless Internet, premium sound systems and HD flat screen televisions and has custom-designed furnishings, fabrics and accent pieces in warm gray, black and white tones with red as a compliment in keeping with the original architectural style. The modern bathrooms are also a standout feature at Hotel Shangrila. Nearly every room and suite has oversized soaking tubs, some with jets, and many with ocean views. Another guest favorite is the European-style shower that accents the completely remodeled bathrooms.

Hotel Shangri-la

The Dining Room, with a stunning vista across Palisades Park to the Pacific Ocean, features both indoor and outdoor patio seating as well as poolside service. The ensemble cast of classically trained yet creative chefs oversees the preparation of special dishes that utilize market fresh farm grown ingredients chosen at the popular nearby Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. The culinary team starts with classic American dishes and then finds international comfort foods to compliment and achieve a delicious midpoint.

The hotel has several unique locations for meetings and events including the Courtyard, the largest such venue in Santa Monica, and the Penthouse. Both are ideal settings for mixers, wrap parties, corporate meetings and intimate get-togethers.

Hotel Shangri-la

“In addition to these unique venues, guests and locals alike are attracted to ‘Suite 700.’ “It is one of our latest creations and is Santa Monica’s only open-air rooftop bar and lounge,” adds Birmele. He adds that the 360 degree views from city to ocean cannot be beat and the same goes for the first-class mixology. Suite 700 has become the most coveted social hideaway on the Westside. While membership is not required, the feeling is one of an intimate and exclusive private lounge.

Poolside, guests can relax in the lush green Courtyard and can be pampered in one of the fully-outfitted private cabanas. An indoor workout room is nearby and steps away is the Sybaris Rejuvenation Lounge where guests can enjoy holistic treatments from the ancient Tibetan Ku Nye Body Treatment to Reflexology, Reiki and a variety of luxury massages and body rejuvenation sessions. The Sybaris concept is in keeping with the rejuvenation theme central to James Hilton’s classic 1933 novel, “Lost Horizon,” where Shangri-La is an isolated earthly paradise populated by immortal and ageless residents. All are promised eternal youth.


The hotel, although small, engaged Birmele as general manager because of his clear vision and five- star luxury pedigree. Prior to arriving at Shangrila, he served in senior positions at Shutters on the Beach, St. Regis Los Angeles and Washington, and The Viceroy. “Our philosophy is simple,” says Birmele. “We go to great lengths to ensure our style of of service is intimate and cordial, providing all the comforts needed for guests to enjoy their stays. At the same time, we exercise discretion to allow guests privacy. Because we have so many international guests – during a three month period last year we welcomed guests from 21 countries — we also offer a global ambassador service through our knowledgeable concierges and our staff who speak over twelve languages.”