In 1927, my grandparents, Nola and Ellsworth Faris Duke (AKA “Duke”) were married in Beverly Hills. A reception at my great-Aunt’s house on Rexford Drive followed, with the after-party at the Beverly Hills Hotel going on until the wee hours of the morning. There, as family history would have it, is where the couple were toasted by the humorist Will Rogers (my grandmother’s employer); and where a Barrymore got drunk and made a pass at the bride.
It was the roaring twenties, and the hub of society and scandal was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which celebrates its 100th birthday this month. Known for its pink façade, and its Polo Lounge, the hotel was the in-spot for poolside celebrity spotting and tales of shenanigans inside the infamous bungalows were the likes of Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, and Liz Taylor and Richard Burton cavorted and canoodled. It is, to this day, the place to see and been scene in “Hollywood.”
The hotel started its life sprung from an abandoned bean field as a place where real estate speculators could lure prospective land buyers to visit; and then reside as their new homes were being built in the nearby hills of Beverly. The hotel was built at a cost of $500,000 by Margaret Anderson and her son Stanley who were wooed by developer Max Whittier from their then-famous Hollywood Hotel with an offer of free land, and a $323,000 mortgage for construction costs. At the time, the Beverly Hills Hotel was the only restaurant in town, and quickly became the centerpiece of society. The Hollywood Hotel is now long gone, but the Beverly Hills Hotel lives on and on. Originally painted white, the mission revival-style structure was designed by Elmer Grey, then refashioned in pink and leaf-green by Starchitect Paul Revere Williams in the 1940’s. It has since been known as the “Pink Palace.”
But the hotel is less about its architecture, and more about its place as a social epicenter. The tales of John Lennon and Yoko hold-up in a bungalow, Rex Harrison sunbathing in the nude, and Will Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, and Spencer Tracey quenching their thirst after polo matches at the legendary Polo Lounge, sing from the hotel’s walls to this day. Marlene Dietrich was a one-time resident of the Hotel in the 1940s. She often preferred to wear pants in The Polo Lounge and convinced the restaurant to change its “No Slacks for Women” dress code.
Countless movies have been shot using the hotel as an integral character in the story (California Suite, American Gigolo, and Warren Beatty’s Shampoo) and celebratory events—from bar mitzvahs, to wakes have been held there for a century. There are a thousand tales, and ten-thousand memories tied to this one spot, sprung from a bean field 100 years ago this month.