How Beverly Hills was born

In 1912, when The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows was built, the city now known as Beverly Hills did not exist. Instead, it grew up around the Spanish Mission-inspired building—the only hotel in the area, and one that would become a hub for high society in a sea of lima bean fields.

A local developer, Burton Green, built a hotel in a sprawling area that had a few ranch houses but little else. On the opening night invitations, the hotel address read ‘halfway between Los Angeles and the sea’.

When, in 1920, Hollywood’s erstwhile golden couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks took up residence in the hills above the hotel, the area became synonymous with stardom: Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino soon moved in nearby.

It wasn’t long before all this stardust rubbed off on the hotel. When Gloria Swanson was going through a divorce, she booked in at one of its Spanish-style bungalows. In the ’30s, Carole Lombard and the then-married Clark Gable had their private trysts in bungalow four. Marilyn Monroe largely alternated between bungalows one and seven—the latter has been named the ‘Norma Jean’ in her honour.

It was a place that encouraged ostentation. The Duchess of Windsor swanned through the lobby in diamonds and furs. Joan Crawford lunched there frequently. When she was a child, Elizabeth Taylor’s father owned an art gallery in The Beverly Hills Hotel, initiating a connection between the violet-eyed beauty and the hotel; she ended up honeymooning there with six of her eight husbands. In the ’50s, its Polo Lounge became another Hollywood haunt, with regulars Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin indulging in booze, smokes and banter at the bar.

And the pool, with its cabanas and deck chairs and sense of leafy privacy, saw plenty of action of its own. After a game of tennis, Katharine Hepburn cooled off with a swim—with her clothes still on. To get away from crazed fans during their US tours of the mid-’60s, the Beatles came in through the back door for a dip. The original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, was, according to urban legend, signed for the iconic movie role after the director spotted him rescue a drowning girl there.

Despite all its ‘see-and-be-seen’ connotations, the hotel continued to attract celebrities who preferred not to be seen at all. In 1972, when Charlie Chaplin returned to Hollywood after years of absence, he checked into The Beverly Hills Hotel. Greta Garbo knew she would be left alone there. And reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes saw the hotel as such a bastion of privacy that he occupied four of its bungalows for three decades, to the tune of US$3.5 lakh (Rs1.7 crore) a year.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90210, USA (+1 310 276 2251; www.beverlyhillshotel.com)

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Kavita Daswani