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The Secrets of Hollywood’s Most Legendary Hotels

Marlene Dietrich inside the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was the first woman to wear pants in the lounge.

It’s a Tuesday night in Los Angeles and at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, a sea of purposefully dressed people hold court around its glamorous, 1960s-style Tropicana Pool & Cafe. With its underwater mural by David Hockney, the pool is probably the only place in the world where guests can swim in a million-dollar work of art, and though it’s well into the evening, night swimming is definitely encouraged.

A few miles away, the paparazzi are camped outside the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, a towering structure modeled after a castle in the Loire Valley of France. Brad Pitt recently made a surprise appearance at a party at the Chateau, and there’s buzz the actor may come back. A woman in a black jacket stands at the foot of the hotel’s driveway holding a clipboard in one hand and a phone in the other. If Pitt is indeed making a return appearance tonight, she’ll be the first to greet him and let him in.

The Hollywood Roosevelt’s underwater mural in the Tropicana Pool was painted by David Hockney in 1987.

The Hollywood Roosevelt’s underwater mural in the Tropicana Pool was painted by David Hockney in 1987.

On this night and every other night, actors, models, musicians, and starlets descend upon hotels to party, to network and, perhaps, to steal a kiss. If Los Angeles is the City of Stars, these hotels are where the constellations are formed – a shiny solar system of A-listers orbiting each other, setting in motion some of the most memorable Hollywood stories of the era.

It’s difficult to find an establishment that matches The Beverly Hills hotel when it comes to glamour, history, and its association with Hollywood’s Golden Age. “The image people have in their heads of Los Angeles lined with palm trees comes from The Beverly Hills,” says Jonathan Kuntz, professor of American film history at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. “The hotel is widely considered to be the first landmark in the city.”

Arriving at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the 1950s.

Built in 1912, the property – dubbed the “Pink Palace” for its blush-colored exterior – dates back to the first generation of Hollywood, with early stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks serving as co-sponsors when it was built. Toward the end of the 1950s, the reclusive business magnate Howard Hughes maintained a residence in Bungalow 4, while renting other bungalows at the hotel for his staff. In 1964, after eloping to Montreal, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton returned to Los Angeles and spent their honeymoon at The Beverly Hills, in Bungalow 5. Though the marriage would dissolve years later, Taylor’s love for the hotel never faded. In fact, she reportedly spent her subsequent honeymoons in Bungalow 5 as well.

These days, the hotel is a favorite with everyone from Sofia Richie to Beyoncé. The Los Angeles real estate mogul Mohamed Hadid and his fiancé, Shiva Safai, dine at the hotel’s Polo Lounge once a week. For Safai, the appeal of the hotel stems from its grandeur as much as its familiarity. “The property has such a classic, timeless feel,” says the reality TV star and entrepreneur, who always orders the hotel’s famous McCarthy Salad with a side of fries. “When you start going often, the staff really get to know you, and it almost feels like you’re at home.”

Rita Hayworth at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

One of the most welcomed features of the hotel: paparazzi are not allowed anywhere near the property. “We’ve celebrated birthdays, we’ve had friends get married, and we spend a lot of nights having dinner there,” Safai says. “You feel very comfortable knowing people are not there to snap pictures of you.” The privacy was particularly helpful during Father’s Day last year, when Safai organized a surprise party for Hadid at the hotel. “We somehow managed to have all the kids show up, including the two grandkids,” she says. “It’s really rare for all of us to be in town at the same time and get together, so it was definitely a special moment.”

A short drive away lies the famous Sunset Strip, home to two more iconic hotels. Designed in 1929 by Leland A Bryant, the Sunset Tower hotel rises high above Sunset Boulevard with its elegant art deco styling and striking zigzag moderne-style facade. In its early days, stars like Frank Sinatra and John Wayne flocked to the hotel for dinner at the Tower Bar restaurant, or to entertain guests in their well-appointed suites.

It’s not uncommon to see Chris Pine, Jennifer Aniston, or John Mayer coming out of the hotel. Hadid’s third date with his fiancé was at the Sunset Tower, when the developer invited her out for dinner with himself, the Latin singer Luis Miguel, and a mutual friend. Designer Rachel Zoe hosted a private dinner at the hotel when she unveiled her FW17 collection – her first time showing in Los Angeles. Zoe liked the venue so much, she returned six months later to debut her SS18 line for guests including Chrissy Teigen, Jessica Alba, and Nicole Richie.

The first Academy Awards were held at the Hollywood Roosevelt in 1929.

Over the years, the Sunset Tower has also been the hotel of choice for many dignitaries and politicians, thanks in part to its central location and its ability to cater on a whim to VIP guests. Tim Cunningham, who has been an ambassador at the Sunset Tower for 13 years, recalls looking after the King of Tonga and his court with the US Secret Service for a week, and personally escorting the late US First Lady Nancy Reagan to her dinner table in the Tower Bar. “Our guests like knowing they will be looked after 24/7 and that everything will be taken care of, from the beginning of their stay to the end,” Cunningham says.

He’s done everything from constructing a private entrance, to flying in personal trainers and securing high-end sports cars for an impromptu jaunt around town. Just as The Beverly Hills hotel came to define the city of Beverly Hills, there would be no Hollywood without The Hollywood Roosevelt. Completed in 1927, The Roosevelt opened its doors on Hollywood Boulevard the same week that Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – popular for the celebrity handprints and footprints on the sidewalk – opened across the street. Marilyn Monroe famously lived in The Hollywood Roosevelt for two years, and she and Arthur Miller were said to have met at the hotel’s Cinegrill nightclub, which shut its doors in 2001. Today, guests can still book the 70 sqm Marilyn Suite, which features white furniture, vintage Eames pieces, and a wraparound balcony overlooking the pool below.

This past January, the design duo Wolk Morais showcased its FW18 collection on the rooftop of The Roosevelt. Guests were ushered up a private staircase to the roof, where models walked under the iconic Roosevelt Hotel neon sign, with 360-degree views of the city. “The collection was inspired by Hollywood goth romance,” says Brian Wolk, “and no location expresses that feeling more than The Roosevelt.”

hollywood hotels Chateau Marmont

The cloisters at Chateau Marmont.

Perhaps the most famous hotel in the city is the Chateau Marmont. Situated up a narrow, nondescript road in West Hollywood, the hotel’s hidden location – and its leafy facade – almost pulls back rom Hollywood by design. Built in 1929 as an apartment complex, it was converted to a hotel two years later. With only 63 rooms – and a number of private hillside bungalows – it quickly became a go-to for high-spirited stars seeking a place to unwind outside of the spotlight. As Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, famously said, “If you must get in trouble, do it at Chateau Marmont.”

Guests over the years have included everyone from Judy Garland and James Dean, to Lindsay Lohan, who was famously banned (and then unbanned) from the property in 2012 after racking up a bill of US$ 46 000. The Chateau has also served as a creative outlet for a number of artists. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis is said to have recorded his vocals for By the Way in a makeshift studio in his room. In 2010, director Sofia Coppola released Somewhere, a film set in the hotel that features the Chateau as almost a supporting player. Kristen Stewart is frequently spotted at the hotel’s garden terrace having dinner, while a piano lounge in the lobby adds a touch of old-school Hollywood glamour to the proceedings, no matter the night of the week. Wolk says he “loves to have fashion dinners with editors at the Chateau,” in addition to frequenting the Roosevelt and Polo Lounge. These hotels, he adds, “are truly a cultural hub.”

The Hotel Roosevelt.

As for why the hotels have maintained their longevity in a city known for its fleeting fancies, the answer may be simpler than you would think. “Maya Angelou reminds us that people will never forget how you made them feel, and great service can indeed make someone feel a certain way,” says Edward Mady, general manager of The Beverly Hills hotel. “You never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory, and we are in the business of making memories.”

Originally printed in the May 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia. Words by Tim Chan.

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