08 Jul Western Landmark: California’s Grande Dame
Best known as the setting for the long-loved film “Pretty Woman,” the iconic Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel, is a history-rich landmark. In January 1928, Beverly Hills was home to 18,000 residents, including movie stars Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Rudolph Valentino, and the ultra-rich, including oilman Edward L. Doheny, who had just built the 55-room Greystone Mansion. But, as a group, the elite had not yet discovered the palm-tree studded enclave positioned midway between Santa Monica on the Pacific Ocean and Downtown Los Angeles.
Real estate developer Walter G. McCarty opted to lure the in-crowd by building a luxe, E-shaped building: The Beverly Wilshire Apartment Hotel. The project was planned to anchor a future commercial and residential venture and to gentrify the Beverly Auto Speedway, where picnics added to the excitement of Sunday afternoon Ford Model T races.
The architectural firm Walker & Eisen designed the original 10-story building using Tuscan stone and Carrara marble; they adapted the symmetry, proportion, and geometry of Renaissance architecture into Second Renaissance Revival style with French Neoclassical influences. Known as the Wilshire Wing, the structure fronts Wilshire Boulevard, spanning the entire block between Rodeo Drive and El Camino Drive (formerly called Speedway Drive). The resort-style venue was backed by an Olympic-sized pool, cabanas, gardens, and tennis courts, where champions, including Pancho Gonzales and Bobby Riggs, played exhibition matches.
Years later, new owners renamed the property the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. They renovated it and added a large ballroom. In the late ’60s, Welton Becket and Associates designed the hotel’s separate, 14-story addition, called the Beverly Wing, which is connected to the original hotel via a second-floor skywalk.
When this Second Renaissance Revival building opened in 1971, it was the tallest building in Beverly Hills; it featured balconied rooms overlooking an extraordinary Mediterranean-style pool complex, complete with a fountain that’s modeled after Sophia Loren’s private 16th-century Roman Villa pool in Italy. Today, the pool anchors an outdoor pavillion that includes a casual bar and cafe, and a two-story fitness center.
Just footsteps from the pool, is the 8,000-square-foot, Forbes Five-Star award-winning spa, with walnut and onyx decorative elements and a large amethyst geode surrounded by a curvilinear water wall. The spa offers nine treatment rooms and a changing room — with a star-ceiling-lighted steam room, experiential shower, and personal showers — next to an elegantly furnished lounge.
The Beverly Wing is also home to the three-bedroom Penthouse Suite, on the private, key-accessed 14th floor. At 5,000 square feet, it’s the largest guest room space in the city. Plus, the sleek glass, and marble suite boasts a dining room table for 10, a kitchen, media room, and private wrap-around terrace with views of the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills, Century City, and Downtown Los Angeles.
A cobblestone driveway, dubbed El Camino Real, was added between the two structures, and this private road remains the exclusive entry to the double-towered hotel. The Buckingham Palace-inspired, wrought-iron gate — with Italian stones, 38 gaslight lanterns imported from Edinburgh, Scotland, a bell marker, and a domed porte-cochere — adds prestige to the entrance experience.
The grande dame of Beverly Hills offers 395 luxe and graciously-sized guest rooms, including 137 suites decorated in a classic, contemporary style. The opulence of this original structure — with its spacious lobby, marble floors, soaring hand-painted ceilings, wood-paneled walls, fireplaces, tile work, and gold fixtures — endures even after multiple enhancements through the decades, including 21st-century improvements by famed architect Richard Meier, of the Getty Museum.
By the time the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1987, its register included such prestigious guests as actor Paul Robeson, former President Barack Obama, musicians John Lennon, Steve McQueen, and Elvis Presley, and long-term residents Warren Beatty and Barbara Hutton.
Today, the Forbes-rated Five-Star hotel enjoys an uber-prime position in the city’s Golden Triangle; a location that was considered merely up-and-coming in the roaring ‘20s.