Before they were selling rooms for more than $400 per night, three Santa Monica hotels were aiding battle-tired soldiers in the midst of the second World War.
Hotel Casa Del Mar, the Shangri-La Hotel and the Fairmont-Miramar Hotel — along with three hotels that have since been demolished — served as redistribution centers for American troops from November of 1943 to October of 1945, according to a historical consultant’s report to the Landmarks Commission last week.
“When the depression came those buildings, with their swimming pools, ballrooms, gymnasiums and other ‘waste space,’ were not suited for industry,” an L.A. Times article from that era said. “But when the Army Air Forces wished a Western Redistribution Center those white elephants suddenly became valuable. Nothing suitable could be found in the Seattle, Portland, San Francisco or San Diego areas. Three beach club buildings and three hotels stood almost in a row in Santa Monica where climate and location were perfect.”
Santa Monica’s hotels were labeled Army Air Force Redistribution Station Number 3. Atlantic City, Miami, and Santa Ana were the only other redistribution hubs in the United States, the report said.
“Under the command of Colonel William C. Lewis, the goal of the AFF Redistribution Station Number 3 was to rotate men out of combat to save the lives of entire crews,” the report, prepared by Margarita Jerabek, said. “The men were recommended by the flight surgeon to return back to the States for rest.”
In total, the Santa Monica centers processed and reassigned more than 35,000 AAF veterans during the war, the report said.
The Miramar was specifically set-aside for married soldiers and showcased classical and popular music on Sunday afternoons.
The Santa Monica-Ocean Park chapter of the American Red Cross organized social events and distributed information.
“A hobby room was equipped on the fourth floor of the Edgewater beach hotel,” the consultant said. “One of the most popular hobbies taught was leathercraft, however, other instruction was given in water color, floral design, charcoal and pencil drawings, stencil and textile painting and plastics.”
The Women’s Army Air Corps were trained for five weeks out of Iowa before shipping to one of the four redistribution stations, where they staffed the hotels and beach clubs, doing everything from radiology to stenography.
Old L.A. Times articles described young soldiers who liked lounging in the pools or playing games, but longed to return to the front lines.
In 1945, at the war’s end, Santa Monica’s redistribution centers were changed to processing centers for returning prisoners of war. Santa Ana became the redistribution hub for the western states. By the end of October in 1945, all six Santa Monica hotels and clubs had returned to regular use.
The Landmarks Commission received the report at its last meeting. At a future date, the commission may choose to add the info the hotels’ landmark.