America’s first female hotel manager

Los Angeles CNN  — 

Throughout the newly renovated Hotel Figueroa, amidst its posh new interior design, an inverted triangle can be seen carved into its original walls.

The triangle, a symbol of female strength and power, is a relic of the hotel’s beginnings as a YWCA hotel for women.

“We hired a social anthropologist to do a deep dive,” explains Hotel Figueroa owner Brad Hall of his interest in the hotel’s past.

Hall, who purchased the nearly century-old building in 2014, spent over two years returning the building to its Spanish Colonial style roots. Through hundreds of old photographs and newspaper clippings, a story of ambitious women with a mission to empower each other unfolded.

Hotel with herstory

Hall, who purchased the nearly century-old Los Angeles building in 2014, spent over two years returning the building to its Spanish Colonial style roots.

Though much of the interior had to be demolished because of structural problems, Hall and his team went to great lengths to honor the hotel’s origins both visually and sentimentally.

“We hired a social anthropologist to do a deep dive,” explains Hall. Through the study of hundreds of old photographs and Los Angeles Times newspaper clippings, a story of ambitious women with a mission to empower each other unfolded.

In 1925, the women of the YWCA secured a $1.25 million loan to build a safe haven for the growing number of female travelers and businesswomen in the 1920s.

The amount was reported in 1926 by the Los Angeles Times to be “the largest individual financial transaction ever undertaken by a body of women in the United States.”

The YWCA’s mission with the new hotel was to provide safe and luxurious accommodations for the growing number of professional women in the 1920s. “Hotels were not necessarily a safe place for a single female traveler both from a physical standpoint and from a reputation standpoint,” says Hall, noting the social stigma surrounding female travelers at the time of Figueroa’s inception.

Men were allowed on site but could only rent rooms on the guys-only third and fourth floors.

Pilot project

After its completion, the women hired East Coast-based Maude N. Bouldin to be the hotel’s managing director. “She [piloted] a plane from the East Coast to the West Coast,” says Hall of Bouldin’s cross-country move to California to become the first female hotel manager in the country.

Bouldin went by her own name at a time when most women took their husband’s names. (The president of the board of directors of the YWCA and president of the new hotel building committee was Mrs. Chester C. Ashley.)

Also, Bouldin famously crashed the Hotel Men’s Association at Arrowhead meeting in 1926, a convention designed for men in a male-dominated industry.

“Maude N. Bouldin is the only woman in the hotel world claiming the title of managing director and with said title represented her hotel, the Hotel Figueroa, at the state convention of the Hotel Men’s Association at Arrowhead.

“They would have debates and discussions that would address racism, sexism and other social injustices that were going on here. This became kind of a rabble-rousing place,” explains Hall walking through the hotel’s lobby. “[Maude] managed the place, and it was under her that it became that mecca.”

He proudly points out the absence of televisions anywhere in the hotel’s lobby, a nod to the women who wanted to create a space for people to speak their minds, communicate and spend time together. It is, instead, filled with stylish, inviting furniture and books.

From past to present

Hall used these stories and the hotel’s history to inspire its current aura.

Much of the hotel’s current staff is female and the hotel is offering an extravagant “Bold Like Bouldin” package that includes Maude-inspired luxuries like private jet services, cocktail making classes, the lavish Casablanca Suite, use of a Tesla Model X and more.

Signs of Maude and the women of the YWCA can be seen throughout. “We’ve put together an art program so the art that you see here is all L.A.-based female artists and we really try to bring them in as part of the hotel’s community.”

The most striking example of this is a large portrait of Maude Bouldin – an avid racer – on a motorcycle that hangs in the hotel’s lobby.

Vintage photographs of the women of the YWCA line the walls of the Grande Salle, the hotel’s private event room. There, over an original fireplace decorated with the famous triangle, is a photo of 10 women. They sit straight-faced and posed in the same room where it hangs.

“This picture was taken in this room,” says Hall, who in the renovation recreated the room to precisely resemble the original. “We think Maude is the younger one standing in the back.”

After the stock market crash of 1927 and the Great Depression, the YWCA lost ownership of the hotel. They did, however, continue to run it and keep their headquarters on the property until 1951.

The decades that followed were grim for the area of downtown. Many of the surrounding buildings were torn down. The Hotel Figueroa still stands today thanks to a Swedish man named Uno Thimansson who purchased the hotel in 1976 and ran it as a Moroccan-themed tourist hotel until Hall purchased it in 2014.

“We’re really kind of stewards of this place now,” says Hall, standing next to the 10 women in the photograph. “This place was here long before I was here and it will be here hopefully long after.”

Hotel Figueroa, 939 S. Figueroa Street Los Angeles, California 90015, +1 213 627 8971

Heather Platt is a Los Angeles-based food and travel writer. Her work can be seen in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Eater, Angeleno and more. Follow her delicious adventures at @heatheraplatt.