Beverly Hills Hotel marks 100 years of swank

Associated Press Modified: May 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm •  Published: May 7, 2012
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Four stories high, surrounded by acres of gardens and flowers, the hotel evokes a lush Mediterranean fantasy island, decorated with banana leaves, palm fronds and fuchsia azaleas. In the 1940s, African-American architect Paul Williams designed the hotel's looping handwritten script logo and redesigned the Polo Lounge, which had previously been called El Jardin. Williams also designed the more casual Fountain Coffee Room below the lobby, which still has a curved dark counter and green banana leaf wallpaper. The hotel was nicknamed the "Pink Palace" after being painted a salmon hue in 1948 to reflect light shades of the sunset.

Some things have changed, of course. Gone are stables for guests' horses; the school, movie theater, billiard room and bowling alley that were once downstairs; and fox hunts that were staged in nearby barren hills. There have also been financial ups and downs. The Great Depression forced the hotel to close in 1933 and reopen 10 months later under the ownership of Bank of America before being sold again later, according to Anderson's book. The hotel was bought by the Brunei Investment Agency in 1987 and is now part of the agency's Dorchester Collection of luxury hotel properties.

In 1992, the hotel closed for a $100 million restoration, reopening in 1995. Today it has more than 200 rooms and suites, including 23 private bungalows big enough to accommodate staffs and families. Five bungalows date to 1915, while new presidential bungalows unveiled last year include outdoor rain showers. Rooms, decorated with peachy marble bathroom floors and green granite countertops, now run upwards of $500 a night. Cocktails at the Polo Lounge, 15 cents in 1944, now start at $17. But spotting A-listers at the hotel remains a regular occurrence, whether in the Polo Lounge, the Cabana Cafe, Bar Nineteen12 overlooking the hotel's citrus garden, or down a winding staircase to the enormous art deco Crystal Ballroom.

A celebration of the centennial is planned for June 15-17 to benefit the Motion Picture Television Fund, with a filmmaker panel, an evening party hosted by director Brett Ratner and a Polo Lounge brunch hosted by Warren Beatty and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Regular folks who want a taste of the anniversary can try drinks from "These Walls Are Talking" cocktail menus featuring drinks such as "100 Year Sidecar," ''The Rat Pack" and "The Norma Jean."

In a new film timed to the anniversary celebration, directed by Chuck Workman, Michael Douglas mused about the hotel's nostalgic appeal to both celebs and those without Hollywood ties.

"I've been going to the Beverly Hills Hotel for over half of its life. You feel timeless," said the actor. "There's a thoughtfulness that makes you feel like you're coming home. It could be 50 years ago, except of course for the cell phones.

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If You Go ...

BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL: 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif.; http://www.beverlyhillshotel.com/ or 310-276-2251. Nightly rates start at $500. Packages for the June 15-17 anniversary benefit weekend, $7,500 to $15,000. Robert Anderson's book: "The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows — The First 100 Years," $100, http://www.thebeverlyhillscollection.com.