For a city that worships youth and glamour, turning 100 years old might be considered a tragedy. But 100 just might be the new 40, as Beverly Hills gets made up and coiffed for its centennial—embracing its age and its modernity; old Hollywood and new, together as one.
Before all the glitz and star-studding, Beverly Hills was called the “Gathering of Waters” by Native Americans and “El Rodeo de las Aguas” by the Spanish settlers who came after.That’s because the land is a 4,500-acre oasis in a semi-arid basin.
Founded on January 28, 1914, the city celebrates its 100th anniversary with a celebration of its rich and colorful history, which could be traced in miles of fertile farmlands (of lima beans) in the 1800s, and measured in oil wells during the early 1900s—although speculators soon discovered that the area’s true wealth was in its water, not oil. One of those early oil magnates, Burton E. Green—inspired by his home in Beverly Farms in Massachusetts—was responsible for naming this scenic hillside in greater Los Angeles.
The city’s legend as a seat of luxury was firmly established with the opening of The Beverly Hills Hotel (a.k.a the Pink Palace) on May 12, 1912. According to Robbie Anderson, chair of the City Recreation and Parks Commission and great-grandson of Margaret Anderson, founder and owner of the legendary hotel, “My family’s hotel put Beverly Hills on the map.”
The establishment’s 208 rooms and 23 bungalows, with their tropical, fragrant gardens, palm tree-lined pool, ocean breezes, and spectacular mountain range backdrop fit for a movie, became a place of peace and refuge for the rich and famous.Marilyn Monroe spent several months at a time in the private bungalows, as did Johnny Carson, while Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned with six of her eight husbands here.
“The hotel was a self-contained city with 25 gated Kentucky horses, playing privileges at the exclusive Los Angeles Country Club, a dairy farm and poultry farm, a movie theatre—and it is where the first ‘church’ service in Beverly Hills was held,” says Anderson, whose new book, Beverly Hills, The First 100 Years, will come out in September of this year.
The hotel and Beverly Hills have survived three wars and the Depression, a time when, surprisingly, many now-famous buildings were built—the Beverly Wilshire in 1928, City Hall in 1932, and the historic post office in 1933.
The advent of Henry Huntington’s 1,100 miles of trolley car tracks, running through Beverly Hills with a special stop at The Beverly Hills Hotel, added further convenience for anyone traveling throughout the area (alas, the tracks are now defunct). When actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford built the Pickfair Estate on Summit Drive, a wave of film stars, directors, and producers followed.Beverly Hills has experienced a grand population increase from 674 in 1920 to approximately 35,000 residents today.
As the city celebrates its centennial, five of Beverly Hills’ most elegant hotels are taking part in something called “Suite 100.”Hotel guests can choose a decade in time in which to luxuriate, as each of the participating hotels will transform one suite into a moment in time—specifically a decade dedicated to a particular, lavish lifestyle—over the past 100 years. The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Beverly Hilton, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, Montage Beverly Hills, and The Peninsula Beverly Hills are all part of the program. Moments relived will include 1940s film noir, the star-studded 1950s, the rebellious and free-spirited 1960s, the pop-art culture of the 1970s, and the elegance of the 1990s, with deference to the Oscars and Golden Globes.
Some examples include The Beverly Hilton’s special ‘60s room dedicated to the style and elegance of Audrey Hepburn, with bold colors and a mélange of antiques and modern flair by designer David Hicks.The Beverly Hills Hotel will offer the “Norma Jean experience,” replete with Monroe memorabilia, guest gifts of Chanel No. 5, and more.(The hotel’s poolside and Cabana Café have been upgraded for this occasion.)
Designer Nia Petronzio has conjured the sultry mystique of 1940s film noir at Montage Beverly Hills. The furniture is inspired by Art Deco designs in dramatic colors and geometric shapes, enhanced by silver and gold, and mirrored finishes. Details of the era include a vintage typewriter and phonograph, and a collection of Lalique crystal. For the height of luxury, guests can use the “Press for Champagne” button for service.
Beverly Hills has blossomed into an arts mecca over the years, while preserving the good bones of its architecture. The new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, a part of the Italianate Beverly Hills Post Office, is now a grand theater complex complete with a 500-seat state-of-the-art theater and a 150-seat studio, featuring performances of dance, opera, music, and theater for young people around the world. It is a marvelous blend of old and new. By late summer or early fall, there will also be a performing arts school on site for aspiring actors, musicians, dancers, and technicians, from pre-school to high school age.
For art aficionados, viewing some of the 60 outdoor, contemporary sculpture installations is another way to appreciate the artistic wealth of Beverly Hills, along with its plethora of traditional galleries.Park your car at 450 North Crescent Drive and start your walking tour of the special Arts of Palm sculptures dedicated to the centennial celebration.
A visit would not be complete without experiencing the Greystone Mansion, the former Doheny Estate, built in 1928 and touted as the largest home in Beverly Hills. This was the location for the filming of Spiderman, Dark Knight, Ghostbusters, and Air Force One, to name a few movies.The seemingly endless landscape gardens are open to the public, as well as the mansion itself, for small, organized group tours.
Beverly Hills is living proof that old-world elegance never goes out of style, age is just a number, and good looks, glitz—and relevancy—can go on and on.
Beverly Mann has been an arts and travel writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for 30 years. She has received numerous accolades in the fields of travel writing, education, and international public relations, including a Bay Area Travel Writers Award of Excellence in Newspaper Travel Writing.