21st-Century Pool​​​​​
Slender palm trees rise above the Beverly Hills Hotel’s pool and its famous cabanas

In Beverly Hills, where face-lifts are as common as the cold, a favorite hotel gives its famous pool and patio a major makeover

or 101 years, the Beverly Hills Hotel has remained largely unchanged, a salmon-colored beacon of glamour calling all film industry honchos, grandes dames and aspiring stars to its palm tree–covered grounds. This has been a smart move by its proprietors for a couple of reasons: One, the pink palace, as it is fondly known, and its 12 acres of lush tropical gardens are revered icons in a community known for churning out and chewing up icons; and two, Hollywood types can be a surprisingly conservative set. Any updates, however necessary, made to their clubhouse are not taken lightly or without complaint. Yet the time for a little nip and tuck had undeniably arrived.

Actors Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck relax poolside at the hotel during the filming of Designing Woman, Vincente Minnelli’s 1957 movie

 

So it was that in 2012, when renovations began, first on the hotel’s lobby and then continuing to the Polo Lounge restaurant and pool, the owners tried to keep the past in mind while looking toward the future. The Dorchester Collection, a London-based hotel management company, hired Tihany Design to paint the grand gestures (and with Per Se restaurant and a clutch of Mandarin Oriental hotels on the design firm’s client list, Dorchester could be sure the gestures would be grand). But founding designer Adam Tihany was not just a good choice simply because of his résumé. The renowned artist of interiors is also a longtime fan of the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s where he courted his wife and where he stayed many times when work or play called him to California.

Pictures taken during the past century portray a sort of Eden, and in Eden, not just any pool will do. Here’s Faye Dunaway, famously reclining on a deck chair the day after the 1977 Academy Awards, her 1976 Oscar for Best Actress gleaming in the sun. There’s Rita Hayworth in wide-leg palazzo pants standing by the water. Nearby, Gregory Peck is sitting with an MGM studio head, cabana awnings and palm trees behind them. Peck’s smile is huge; his eyes squint in the sun. This was the kind of pool that required—and most likely always will—great hair, makeup, heels and a lot of cocktails. It was not a pool for swimming laps.

Since the film industry sprang up in nearby Hollywood more than 100 years ago, the Beverly Hills Hotel has been a hub of activity, deal making and entertainment, and its top brass intends to keep it that way.

Svend Petersen managed the hotel pool for more than 40 years before retiring in 2001. He remembers the pool in the 1960s and ’70s, what he calls the golden years. “We had Katharine Hepburn coming here, Grace Kelly, the Kennedys, Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason, Fred Astaire. I could go on and on,” he says. “Fred Astaire walking—it was like dancing. And Katharine Hepburn was diving off the high board.” The golden years may be over now, but Petersen remains optimistic about the future: “They’ve made the cabanas much bigger. It looks like the South of France. [The pool] only gets better every time we do something new.”

And thankfully, Tihany says, the pool was easier to update than the Polo Lounge, the hotel’s main restaurant and its “sacred cow.” For this reason, he took some liberties to add, as he says, “a little bit of this California joie de vivre” to the outdoor space. “I just bought this massive olive tree,” Tihany says, the excitement in his voice infectious. “It’s coming to sit over the bar and over the communal table. There’s a big staircase leading down to the pool. We’re creating an arbor to walk through, with flowers and beautiful lighting. It’s going to be a very romantic place.”

The newly revamped Polo Lounge terrace features a bar and a restaurant

 

ince the film industry sprang up in nearby Hollywood more than 100 years ago, the hotel has been a hub of activity, deal making and entertainment, and its top brass intends to keep it that way. To bring some of that buzz to the water’s edge, a summer concert series featuring a well-publicized lineup of artists serenaded guests al fresco. This, rather than a single blowout party, has kept the pool’s reopening fresh in the community’s mind for as long as pool season lasts (which, in southern California, is basically forever).

“When you walk in, you feel the electricity,” Petersen says. “You think, ‘Oh, my God, Marilyn has walked here. Liz Taylor has walked here.’ People come in and say, ‘How can I get in?’ Just make a reservation! This place is for everybody. It’s been my home for 51 years.”

And that’s the key here. That’s what this renovation is all about: fostering a tight-knit community of the rich and beautiful, of locals and foreigners, of star seekers and star makers and the stars we all see on the screen.

“Everything here is new,” Tihany says. He pauses, reflecting, perhaps, on his own experiences inside the pink hacienda’s walls. “It’s dramatically different from what was there before, but it’s what you’d expect. It is uniquely rooted in the whole culture of Beverly Hills. It’s the essence of what Beverly Hills is about and what we perceive as Beverly Hills, because what it’s really about, no one knows.”

 

CARY RANDOLPH FULLER is the senior editor of RL Magazine.

  • Photo by Eric Laignel/Courtesy of Tihany Design
  • Courtesy of MGM/PhotoFest
  • Courtesy of the Beverly Hills Hotel
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