How to Renovate a Holiday Inn Into a Big-Hearted Boutique Hotel

· Updated on March 23, 2023

It’s hard not to crack a big ol’ grin when you enter the main lobby of The Garland Hotel in North Hollywood, California. On top of a welcoming staff, the property’s homage to the happy-go-lucky attitudes of yesteryear sweeps you into a surprisingly charmed present. By the check-in counters a spiral of vintage wooden tennis racquets playfully decorates the wall, a shag carpet shimmies on the hardwood floor and holds mid-century modern chairs that invite you to sit next to a cozy fireplace showcased by whimsical Spanish tile.

“We wanted to go for the John Denver and Stevie Nicks L.A.,”owner James Crank said to us as we sat in the on-property restaurantThe Front Yardwith his partnerScott Elliott. Both men are polite, well-dressed and clean-cut cats who truly lift each other and those around them with genial warmth. “We wanted to bring back the Valley in the 70s.”

“Los Angeles almost fifty years ago was the Brady Bunch,” Scott chimes in, “everything was open, everyone looked you in the eye and smiled. There were no barriers because people were racing so fast into the future that they were celebrating each other and the times.”

But what makes this hotel so welcoming besides its jubilant aurora? How did the two men renovate the 7-acre Holiday Inn, originally built by James’ father, Fillmore Crank, in 1971 as The Beverly Garland Hotel (after James’ mother), into one of the most thoughtful independently run boutique hotels in the country? After talking with the men, their staff, and touring the property, it became clear that four unique factors set The Garland apart from its ilk by picking a fabulous theme, investing in their staff, knowing their history, and giving back to their local and queer communities.

Embrace a Theme

James and Scott picked a four-dimensional theme that expounded beyond their fabulous 70s aesthetics. While the theme is lovely on the eyes and provokes a vibrant nostalgia of VW vans, laid-back lifestyles, and mid-century modernity, the theme also carries with it an almost tangible sentiment. But not just any fleeting feeling, one of inclusivity, amiability, and love. Here, the design double dips with positive attitudes. Call it flower power, call it free love, call it the Fleetwood Mac guitar solo in “Gypsy” uniting the people’s souls into some kind of humanity, call it what you want.

Unlike many hotels chasing the lackluster trends of Dwell and Architectural Digest, The Garland represents an unpretentious rising in the hotel industry that caters to good vibes and tenor over exclusivity and materialism. “If you don’t want to be around a diverse group of people, we’re not for you,” James says matter-of-factly.

While visiting the hotel, I shoot the breeze with an international family with Harry Potter paraphernalia coming back from a long day at Universal Studios, a young San Franciscan couple in the hot tub ordering nightcaps from the pool bar, and elderly staycationers from Culver City having a breakfast of Nutella French toast. So while The Garland draws on it’s 70s past, the hotel rockets its theme into to the present with educated and thoughtful inclusivity.

And frankly, it’s mighty hard to resist jumping in and playing along in the time warp the hotel confidently exudes. It’s hard to not want to throw on a fringed mini skirt, a flirty little maxi dress, a tight cut polo, or a flowy ass pair of printed culottes and chuck a couple of footballs with Martha Brady. But it is easy to say hello to the other guests and tell each other about your travels in the elevator taking you to your sunny rooms.

Investing in Staff

While the dandy attention to details are present on every inch of the 7-acre 4-star hotel that contains two balconied towers, floor to ceiling windows, fun, flirty, and yet simple room embellishments, a lovely pool, hot tub, and two restaurants, the property matches its fun aesthetics with a smiley, professional, and diverse staff that genuinely gleam with pride.

“Our staff is fully aware that we are a couple, and fully aware that we embrace complete diversity on the property, which helps them encourage guests to feel comfortable here,” Scott says. And it’s true. During my stay, I see true diversity from check-in, to house cleaning, to an HR department run thoughtfully by a self-identified, openly gay woman, Elizabeth Jacobs, who had the idea to fix the problem of a curmudgeonly dated holiday party most hotels throw by substituting it for a celebratory Children’s Festival.

Scott and James invest further in their staff by offering the highest starting rate at hotels in the country (as hotels with over 250 rooms in Los Angeles offer $15.66) and scaling their menus and amenities up alongside a 12% service charge provide a more livable wage for food and beverage staff. And again, it pays off. The hotel has a low turnover rate of staff and plenty of opportunities to advance employees’ careers from within the hotel. “I’ve had people from housekeeping take over the gift shop, hostesses become waiters, waiters become front desk clerks, and clerks become sales people,” James says.

And as we waltz about the property everyone smiles when they see James and Scott and the two men greet their employees with their names.

Knowing Their History

When the hotel was The Beverly Garland Hotel, James was just a lad growing up, but he remembers the old hotel bar. “It was this kind of dark, loungey space,” he says, “which, when I grew up and became an adult I later learned was the gay bar of the valley in the 70s. They’d all come here and rent rooms and it was quite the swanky little gay scene in its heyday.”

By reviving and choosing to keep the queer history of their past space alive with open arms, the relic of the unofficial gay bar that once united men of all walks, now unites a greater mix of international guests, but still draws a swanky queer clientele as we hurtle even faster into a queer future.

Giving Back

Apart from strict environmentally conscious standards, material sourcing from local companies for room embellishments and local organic food for their restaurant, the hotel puts on yearly block party fundraisers for the local community. This spring will bring music, bites, brews, and wines all benefiting the East Valley Family YMCA on April 15th, and on April 22nd, the hotel will host its first ‘glamp out’ to benefit Brave Trails, a non-profit leadership summer camp for LGBTQ youth.

“A lot of boutique and independent hotels that are gay owned are doing more and more things to give back to the gay community,” James says, “we wanted to sponsor Brave Trails. The kids who attend the camp are coming out with these incredible stories. Many of them learn how to start the first LGBTQ clubs at their schools in places like Kansas and Oklahoma that don’t naturally embrace them.”

Scott tells me, “when I was young there were no gay examples. No gay senators, doctors, lawyers, Olympians. When I was young being gay meant that everyone just ran to a gay city and was gay and that meant going to the bars and parades because there weren’t a lot of mentors out there. This is why we are really interested in Brave Trails, because they are filling that void.”

“The hotel has been successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Scott says as James nods alongside in agreement, “even just being in front of our employees as gay employers is important, especially today, it lets them know you can be diverse and successful and respected and that an entire community will still come to something you’ve made.”

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