After a 2 1/2-year closure and a $100-million renovation, the Beverly Hills Hotel threw open its famous doors to a star-studded crowd last week in a celebration that highlights the city's new economic boom.
The hotel, with its Polo Lounge, has been a celebrity favorite since it opened in the middle of a bean field in 1912. Everyone who is anyone has stayed--or at least paused to schmooze--at the 83-year-old Sunset Boulevard icon.
Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, the Vanderbilts and the Kennedys were longtime guests. Katharine Hepburn took tennis lessons on the hotel courts every morning, rain or shine. After a particularly good lesson, she allegedly did a back flip, fully clothed, into the hotel pool.
Tycoon Howard Hughes lived there for almost 30 years, reserving a number of rooms and bungalows for his own and almost nightly ordering pineapple upside-down cake from room service.
The hotel's revival is only one of many recent grand openings in Beverly Hills.
"There is renewed interest and renewed energy here," said Rolfe Arnhym, executive vice president of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. "The Beverly Hills Hotel coming back on line creates excitement. [Business people] see that as a good sign of a strong economy and see that development is viable in Beverly Hills."
The boom has been aided by the coming of the upscale Barneys New York department store and the expansion of Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Boulevard. Bloomingdale's hopes to build its West Coast flagship store on Beverly Drive. A huge Nike Town shoe and clothing store is pending on Wilshire.
Stores such as Giorgio Beverly Hills and Chanel Boutique have expanded, and Rodeo Drive is almost 100% leased for the first time in years, Arnhym said.
"There seems to be some synergy in the city," said Don Oblander, Beverly Hills director of finance. "All the new stores show that a lot of people are putting up money thinking the economy will continue to strengthen."
Besides its traditional rivals--the Four Seasons Hotel, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Century Plaza--the Beverly Hills Hotel faces new competition. The Peninsula Hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard opened in 1991, and the Lowell Hotel, formerly L'Ermitage, will open soon.
This necessitated the large-scale renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel, which, many say, had been living on its cachet as a landmark for years and had begun to lose clients.
While its competitors offered large, luxurious rooms, the "Pink Palace" had small guest rooms and ancient plumbing and electrical systems, and it lacked central air conditioning.
Even the famed Polo Lounge, home to the original power breakfast, leaked when it rained.
"It definitely was due for a substantial renovation," said Bruce Baltin, a hotel industry analyst for PKF Consulting, which serves the hotel and real estate industries.
So, after two years of planning, and with the requisite star-studded send-off, the hotel closed in September, 1993.
The renovation has included enlarging the guest rooms and adding marble foyers and walk-in closets. Each room now has three telephone lines, a fax machine and a motorized window shade next to the whirlpool bathtub.
Also getting face lifts were the hotel's bungalows, made famous by such stars as Elizabeth Taylor, who stayed in one with a succession of her husbands.
Bungalow 11 has always been a favorite of singer Liza Minnelli, so it was remodeled in the bright, primary colors Minnelli likes, said Kerman Beriker, the hotel's general manager.
A restaurant, underground parking and a kosher kitchen were added. The old, small ballrooms and cramped public function rooms were completely overhauled.
However, some hotel trademarks remain virtually unchanged. The Polo Lounge and coffee shop were refurbished but not altered. Nor were the pool and adjacent cabanas.
"There is so much nostalgia here, it would be difficult to change, say, the menu in the Polo Lounge or coffee shop," Beriker said.
Now, local hoteliers and merchants are wondering how the new, improved Beverly Hills Hotel will affect their businesses.
"Mathematically, it is clear that [all the luxury hotels] will see a small decrease in business," said Ali Kasikci, general manager of the Peninsula Hotel. "We'd be foolish to think it won't."
But, Kasikci said, it is also likely that the Beverly Hills Hotel will generate a lot of business from new guests rather than simply taking away clients from other luxury hotels. Room and bungalow rates range from $275 to $3,000 a night.
Increases in tourists and business travelers will help local restaurants and retailers and give the city of Beverly Hills more hotel tax dollars, he said.
"There is an excitement about the Beverly Hills Hotel opening up," Baltin said. "Right now, Beverly Hills and the Westside is a destination for people. As long as that area of the economy is strong, we will all do well."