To the rest of America, Beverly Hills has always been identified with Los Angeles. In reality the area did not exist before 1906 when 3,000 undeveloped acres were bought by a syndicate of wealthy local businessmen and California oil millionaires. Their ambitious scheme was to create an area of mixed commercial and residential development specially "zoned for use according to altitude -- rich folks at the top with a view, middle-class homes ... in the rolling land ... with provisions for service and workers on the flats." (Griswold. The Golden Age of American Gardens. 1992) Their plans were slowed when the Great Panic swept the country. Investor interest was renewed in 1911 when designs were unveiled for a grand, chic hotel to be built within the development -- the Beverly Hills Hotel.
From the moment in May, 1912, that Margaret J. Anderson and her son Stanley opened the original, Elmer Grey-designed Beverly Hills Hotel (image 2), it became the glamorous heart of the Beverly Hills community. “The Pink Lady,” as she became affectionately known, was soon surrounded by the homes of movie industry executives and their stars. For decades Hollywood elite lounged at poolside, were seen in the lobby and were known to appropriate whole public areas for their private use. The movie stars of the 1920s, 30s and 40s felt so proprietary about the hotel that they often asked management to permanently reserve their favorite tables in the hotel’s restaurants and bars. Hotel lore claims that reclusive aviator Howard Hughes maintained a 30-year reservation for four of the hotel’s bungalows (image 16) designed by Paul R. Williams.
The hotel saw hard times during the depression of the thirties and closed for a short period, reemerging in the 1940s with some of its aura intact. In 1941, Hernando Courtright and a group of investors purchased the hotel and hired Paul R. Williams and interior designers Paul Laszlo & John Luccareni and Harriet Shellenberger to redesign and update the lobby. The designers covered the lobby walls with distinctive banana leaf wallpaper (image 11) and gave the hotel its chic pink, green and white colors. Courtright and associates trumpted the new, refreshed look as the melding of Southern California and Los Angeles design styles" at its spacious, flowering, sunny, palm-shaded best." (Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1949)
This project was the first of many for Williams at the hotel. Throughout the 1940s he designed additions and alterations, updating much of the Mission-style hotel complex. Williams was responsible for creating the hotel’s aesthetics, which have essentially remained unchanged even with new ownership in the 1990s. After he completed the 1949, $1,500,000 Crescent Wing addition (images 8 and 9) with its iconic script Beverly Hills signature, this view of the sign became universally associated with the hotel. At the time of the Crescent Wing's grand public reveal, the Williams' design for the new accommodations was described in an open letter placed in the Los Angeles Times by the owners as, "the kind of rooms that visitors expect to find in California--patios on the ground floor--balconies off many of the upper rooms ...These rooms are not simply hotel rooms. They are...homes in a hotel famed for its homelike atmosphere and appointments."
The Palm Court Terrace (image 12) was one of Williams’ many renovation projects that successfully preserved the original feel of the hotel. Designed as the main dining room, Williams converted the room into a dining/dancing ballroom and according to the hotel brochure “the large commodious salle-a-manger” maintained the fine Spanish traditions of the hotel.
In 2012 to celebrate 100 years of operation, architectural designer Adam Tihany was selected by the hotel management to complete a three-year refreshing of the hotel's interiors. Tihany plans to "subtly update" the lobby, Polo Lounge, guest rooms and bungalows without sacrificing Williams' famous color palette or iconic banana-leaf motif. The designer describes the hotel's style as a precursor of the California-look. "It's bright, but casual and soft-spoken. It isn't glitzy at all, because the glitz comes with the people." (Wall Street Journal, May 19-20, 2012)