Nearly 35 years after closing as a hospitality venue—and almost 100 years since its original opening—The Breakers in Long Beach, CA, is undergoing a $150-million renovation overseen by Anthony Melchiorri, industry expert and television personality behind the TV show Hotel Impossible.
Melchiorri’s company, Argeo Hospitality, has partnered with Long Beach-based development company Pacific6 to bring the property—which hosted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant and Clark Gable in its heyday—back to its former glory and beyond.
For John Molina, founding partner of Pacific6, whose offices overlook the property, bringing The Breakers back to life is more than a business deal. “Before we purchased it, it sat vacant for about five years,” he said. “It is a jewel here in Long Beach and the fact that it was sitting here empty tore at me. Seeing it every day from my office, it just called to me. Our investment thesis as a company is that we are investing in things for the next generation, not to get something and sell it. I want my grandkids to go by and say, ‘Grandpa did that.’”
Like many of his past projects, Melchiorri was drawn to The Breakers because of its history. “My career, for some reason, I always fall over a historic hotel, whether it’s The Plaza or The Algonquin,” he said. “It always seems that the big draw is the history. I always say, ‘I don’t think about what the hotel can be, the hotel tells me what it can be.’ I literally listen to the walls and the feeling of the hotel. When I first saw it, I had the same feeling I had when I walked into The Plaza or The Algonquin.”
Molina noticed Melchiorri’s enthusiasm for the project the first time he and his team walked through the property. “Going through the building with Anthony the first time, the term ‘kid in a candy shop’ is kind of worn, but the enthusiasm was high,” he said. “You have never seen eight adults who are more happy and enthusiastic looking at every nook and cranny.”
Melchiorri admits he is having a lot of fun with this project. “If you gave me a cookie-cutter hotel, I would say ‘Don’t give it to me because I am going to break it,’” he said. “I am going to find something to make it historic. I love the complexity of something like this.”
Many elements of the hotel will remain original, including the exterior, and the lobby will maintain its historical elegance with its original opulent columns and ornate plaster ceilings. Its famed Sky Room restaurant will also reopen with the hotel, with a revamped menu led by Michelin Star Chef Joe Isidori, who will also oversee the hotel’s other dining options.
In addition to its 185 guestrooms and suites, the revival of The Breakers will also introduce new amenities to the hotel, created with the same passion and purpose that the 15-story building exudes, according to the project managers. With the restoration, the El Cielo cocktail bar will be reimagined as the town’s only rooftop terrace with 360-degree seaside views and an ‘innovative’ cocktail menu.
The Breakers will also bring Long Beach’s history of jazz music back to life with The Six, an intimate jazz club and whisky bar. A brand-new pool will be added to the third-floor terrace with views overlooking the fountains of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center and the city’s only luxury hotel spa, with nine high-end treatment rooms and a two-level fitness center.
The hotel and its amenities are being designed to appeal to more than just leisure travelers. “We are catering to a number of different groups,” noted Molina. “We are sitting right next to the convention center. When that person has spent eight hours at the convention and they are dragging, we want them to walk into the front lobby and just feel like that world is gone and they are going to get refreshed.”
He continued, “You want to appeal to the couple that wants to get married on the rooftop, so when they walk in, they are going to feel like they are walking two feet off the ground. Or if you are going to hang out at the bar for a drink, you are going to hear the ghost of Cary Grant next to you. That is what we want you to feel when you go in.”
While fun is an operative word for Melchiorri on this project, there is so much more for him. “This isn’t just about us having fun,” he said. “This is about giving Long Beach a hotel that is a touchstone because it doesn’t have one. That, to me, is critical. Long Beach doesn’t have a hotel like this. It has never had a hotel like this. This hotel is going to be bigger and better than it’s ever been and that is important to me.”
Much like in the decade when the hotel originally debuted, the U.S. is coming out of a major pandemic—it is estimated that the Spanish Flu killed 50 million people worldwide from 1918 to 1920—and people are ready to get back to their regular lives.
“When the country comes out of this funk that we have all been suffering through, people are going to want to celebrate,” said Molina. “They are going to want to have a good time and we are going to be there to make sure they have the best time.”
“Now is the best time in this market for this kind of hotel,” added Melchiorri. “In 1926, when it opened, it was the place for everybody from California to be coming to. When Conrad Hilton opened the hotel, it was his third hotel in California and 11th in the entire stable. So, just that is historic. He had this historic property in 1926 that everybody flocked to.”
Both he and Molina think the post-pandemic time period will also see a renaissance for Long Beach and other markets like it “because everyone is looking at these markets, whether real estate investors or travelers,” said Melchiorri. “We thought L.A. and we thought NY, that’s it, belle of the ball always, but they are going to take a longer time to come back. Everyone wants more open spaces. Everyone wants historic. Eighty percent of hotels are owned by brands and people want something different. They don’t want a cookie-cutter hotel and this hotel will be anything but cookie cutter.”
While they both plan for this hotel to be different, one major difference for this property is that Melichiorri is putting his name behind it. “One hundred years from now, John and I will hopefully still own this hotel,” he said. “But this is something that I am not doing among other things. This is my focus. I am working on other projects, but this is my focus. I am taking a lot more time than I even anticipated when I first signed. It is 24/7. Putting my name on this project is probably the biggest thing I have done in a long time because I don’t put my name on anything. I don’t want to be associated with anything I can’t control.”
All of the work being done is heading towards its planned reopening in 2023. “We want to get it right because the world is watching,” he said. “John Molina’s name is attached to it. My name is attached to it. It is a difficult project. It is a complex project, but it is a fun project… What is the difference between us and any other hotel? There are going to be beds, drink and food. If you don’t have fun in elements that you haven’t seen or felt before, then what the hell are we doing?”