The future is just getting started.
The DJ’s music grew in volume and pulse as the crowd surged forward.
Suddenly a massive ornate three story theater unveils itself. The upper level balcony and mezzanine lookouts are filled with dancing silhouettes above our heads. There is a powerful moment of deja-vu with memories of the legendary Studio 54, not because this is a club but because like 54, this was a defining cultural moment for a great American city. More importantly, for some of us, it was also a deeply personal moment.
I had just entered into another man’s dream… the vision of the late Alex Calderwood. His grand vision had become a pulsating reality and its cultural beat will change Los Angeles. Tonight was the premiere of his Ace Downtown L.A.
I write tonight with an overwhelming sense of pride and joy for a great friend, Alex Calderwood, the co-founder of the Ace Hotels who passed away in London on November 14, 2013 at age 47. It is a bittersweet moment, to celebrate the latest achievement of one of the greatest Creative Directors I have ever worked with in any industry. I used to tell Calvin Klein in the 80’s, that he was the most influential Creative Director of the times, with a vision and influence far beyond the fashion industry. Similarly, Alex had an uncanny feel for the pulse of contemporary society and he put that intuition to use by bringing new ideas and people together, changing entire blocks and neighborhoods in Seattle, Portland, New York City, Palm Springs, London and now downtown Los Angeles.
Discussions with Alex and his team were never about what was trending, ideas behind each hotel never started with marketing or simply cool design. The narrative usually would come from a personal truth, an important social or cultural insight. The conversations were at once local and global, merging ideas from the youth who rule the street, with rigorous debates over architecture and the potential contribution and affect on neighborhoods. To Alex, the overlap of the hardware and software, the building and its events, was inseparable as he shaped the world through his role for the company as Ace’s Cultural Engineer.
While the creation of a unique point of view was inevitable, the process remained organic, always based on the humanity of people, the way they wanted to live and share, how they could inspire each other. The founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, Chip Conley, described Alex well, “He had an uncanny knack of creating spaces where people felt a sense of belonging.”
For Alex, hotels were art projects infused with all the disciplines of good business. His dream was to always evolve the Ace concept as it moved into different global neighborhoods and time zones, while always protecting the company’s guiding principles. He and I spoke about this a lot, often late into the night online from different parts of the world.
This summer, we walked through the gardens of the Nezu Museum in the midst of the Aoyama area of Tokyo. He marveled at the simplicity and finesse of architect, Kengo Kuma and his ability to design amongst the trees with a sense of modernity that connected to the feeling of the great Northwest which influenced Alex so deeply. He remained fearless in his dreams, but not all agreed, and those who didn’t, missed out on the ride of their lives.
He tackled the greatest enemy of quality and longevity head-on… company growth. Alex knew that without an intelligent plan for expanding his horizons, Ace would never experience new things in life. Like any great Creative Director, he made those all around him better at what they do, he lifted our collective bar of excellence through his inspiration and personal sacrifice. It was never about Alex.
In fact, Alex’s greatest advantage was his lack of ego. Today, we live in an age of celebrated flawed leaders where the social value of success, whether it be based on fame, money, or even creativity… asks us to overlook obnoxious behavior. So called “genius” allows high powered people to be jerks, to disrespect, to humiliate, to put themselves above all others all in the name of success. Postmodern management and short term memory allows us to believe that the end justifies the means and such behavior today permeates the board rooms of some of America’s most influential establishments.
My description of Alex as one of our greatest Creative Directors was the fact that he was a giant mentor to new generation of young talent; often those who did not fit into the expectations of the status-quo. Thus, his greatest legacy may not be his hotels but in the organization he has built. Through the Ace team, Alex’s greatest work is yet to come… these extraordinary believers and talented management teams now take over the reins of leadership and inspiration, each carrying the vision of Alex Calderwood forward.
Ace Downtown Los Angeles represents a culmination of all of Alex’s experiences in creating an exciting cultural experience. The Ace in L.A. will be a creative and social catalyst born in the same spirit of non-conformity. Its hotel tower of rooms is fused with the former United Artists Theater built by the then rebels of the Hollywood system, Mary Pickford, DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and a slightly reluctant Charlie Chaplin. Premiering in 1927, the UA Theater with Mary Pickford’s original private screening room below the main theater, is a symbol for personal self-expression and the perfect stage for the next level of creative achievement of the Ace.
Alex Calderwood taught us all to constantly dream, to have confidence in our most challenging ideas and to have a will to make our vision into reality. That is the eternal power of Alex… he made us all believe.
Thank you Alex for inspiring me to be a better Creative Director and to dare to dream beyond my means. Through you, the future is just getting started.
John C Jay
Akitip magazine; Alex Calderwood and John Jay were co-editors and creative directors of the 0053X issue.
Spread from Arkitip Issue 0053X: Dong Wei x Huang Wei Don.
John Jay and Alex Calderwood working on Arkitip Issue 0053X in Studio J.