Photograph, David Horan, 2010, Paul Revere Williams Project
“When you say hotels here … are of that quality, you think of not just the Four Seasons, the new Marriott kind of commercial hotels, or the Century City Plaza. The hotels that were good were the Beverly Hills, the Beverly Wilshire, and, of course, the Hotel Bel Air. We had glamour hotels in those days … and the people coming out here from different parts of the world wanted to stay at the fine-quality private hotels.” Julius Shulman (noted architectural photographer, oral history transcript 1990)
When the Beverly Wilshire Apartment Hotel opened in 1928 at the former site of the Beverly Hills Auto Speedway (image 3) it was the second major hotel to open in undeveloped Beverly Hills. The speedway was a popular gathering place of the “young and restless” celebrities of the 20s for watching Model T’s race. Developer Walter G. McCarty wanted his new apartment/hotel to attract the same demographics. The challenge was to transform the dirt roads and bean fields of Beverly Hills into a destination for the movie industry crowd. The exterior of Walker’s and Eisne’s nine-story building (at that time the tallest structure in Los Angeles) was modified French Renaissance style. The interior reflected the California interpretation of old world elegance with solid mahogany and walnut paneled walls, Louis Quinze furniture, ormolu clocks, gilt cupids, Aubusson carpets, and a generous use of marble and ornate ceilings. A 1926 Los Angeles Times article noted that an exact replica of the "world-noted" Parisian Cafe Madrid would be included in the public area. The lobby had a museum-like feel and was soon a place to be seen for the movie industry’s nouveau elite. The staff’s emphasis on personal service to guests was legendary and the name “Beverly Wilshire” became shorthand for elegance and luxury.
In the 1940s the apartment hotel was sold to developers and renamed the Beverly Wilshire. The new owners commissioned Paul R. Williams to design extensive renovations without sacrificing luxury. Williams’ reputation for reinterpreting older hotels and resorts made him a natural choice for updating the Beverly Wilshire. His original take on Saks Fifth Avenue’s Beverly Hills store as a place to shop “with a residential atmosphere” demonstrated that he understood the experiential aspirations of Hollywood (Time, January 26, 1948). Williams’ initial renovations cost the owners over $3,000,000 but his subsequent renovations would include a grand ballroom to accommodate dancing to the big bands of the 40s and 50s, the Copa nightclub, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and tennis courts. Though the property would change hands several times the goal was always to maintain the status of the hotel as the ultimate luxury experience. From 1946 through 1957, Williams’ designs for the hotel successfully reflected each new owner’s style and eventually changed much of the original aesthetics.
In modern Los Angeles there are many hotels that promote themselves as purveyors of luxury but the Beverly Wilshire’s focus on the “guest as god” has continued to delight visitors and created an on-going mythology perpetuated in fiction, television and movies such as the 1990s Pretty Woman. In this film the location for the Pygmalion-like transformation of a Los Angeles prostitute is a Beverly Wilshire suite and her mentor is the sympathetic hotel manager who understands going the extra mile. While the movie is a fantasy, the staff’s famous dedication to providing efficient and courteous service to all guests, no matter their rank in life, adds credibility to the story.
In 1987 the Beverly Wilshire Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places as an example of period architecture and significance to popular culture during the 1940s and 50s.