Brand & Martínez

Brand & Martínez is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand & A Martínez

Photos: The Beverly Hills Hotel gets landmark status on its 100th birthday

by Josie Huang | Brand & Martínez

The entrance to the Beverly Hills hotel has become iconic. The hotel has been used in several movies such as "The Way We Were", Shampoo", and "American GIgolo". Ashley Myers-Turner/KPCC

You may have never stayed there, but you know what it looks like. Shots of the iconic pink hotel are in about every film or show about Beverly Hills from "90210" to "Beverly Hills Cop."

“The Pink Palace,” as the resort is called, just turned 100 this year, and got a special birthday gift from the city.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, perched upon its grassy knoll on the north side of Sunset Boulevard, looks like a soft-pink fortress. It's a place that oozes Hollywood history, a place where the rich and famous have sought refuge, and the rest of us, a touch of glamour.

It's been used in movies like "The Way We Were," California Suite" and "American Gigolo." It landed on the cover of the Eagles' biggest record, "Hotel California." The title song was about a luxury resort where you could check out, "but you can never leave."

Beverly Hills Hotel Ambassador Svend Petersen, 82, doesn't know why anyone would want to.

"This is paradise in here. Outside on Sunset is the real world," said Petersen.

Petersen worked at the hotel for 45 years, first as a lifeguard, then as the pool's manager. He dreamed of meeting movie stars growing up in his native Denmark, and he got his wish at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

"You know Marilyn Monroe stayed with Yves Montand in two bungalows right next to each other and they were doing hanky panky," said Petersen.

Petersen said "Katherine Hepburn is one of my favorites."

"She used to come in after tennis and jump on the backboard and jump and make a back somersault," Petersen said. "With her clothes on."

He also helped to coordinate the Beatles stay at the hotel in 1964, right after their first U.S. TV performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls complex instructions on how to smuggle the Fab Four from their rooms to the poolside cabana.

"We're going to sneak them out with fake moustaches and oversized clothes into an old bus we had parked on Crescent Drive, and we'll drive around and we'll see them. Just open the back door, so I did," said Petersen.

From Open Fields to Icon Status

To look at the busy hotel today, the Porsches turning onto the driveway from Sunset, it’s hard to imagine 100 years ago there was little here but open fields. Back then a group of investors decided Beverly Hills would be a perfect luxury suburb for fast-growing Los Angeles.

To attract residents, they approached hotel developer Margaret Anderson to build her dream resort. It opened in 1912 to great fanfare.

Robbie Anderson is Anderson's great grandson and the hotel's official historian. "Douglas Fairbanks was one of the first to stay here," said Anderson. "The actors that became friends with my great-grandmother wanted to get out of the area where they were filming in Hollywood — it was getting a little seamy — and they wanted to come West and they would come here to stay at the hotel."

Beverly Hills wouldn't be incorporated for another two years, so the hotel stood in as a community center and city hall. The L.A. Times called it "a miniature city in itself."

"Everything that happens in Beverly Hills – it started here," said Anderson. "They had their own private school system. This was the first church services, the woman’s club met here."

A century later, Beverly Hills has grown into a community of around 35,000 people and boasts the most famous zip code in the world.

A Living Legend

In the meantime, the Beverly Hills Hotel's fortunes have gone up and down. Ownership has changed hands several times — it's now owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Today, young celebrities like Lady Gaga prefer trendier hotels like the Chateau Marmont.

But the Beverly Hills Hotel holds a special place in many people’s hearts. On Thursday, Sept. 13, hundreds gathered under the chandeliers of the Crystal Ballroom to honor the hotel on its 100th birthday.
"This is the first landmark designation that we're doing in our city is of the Beverly Hills Hotel," said Beverly Hills City council member Lili Bosse. "This is really where Beverly Hills began, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. So we're celebrating the birthday of a hotel, of a city and a new tradition of honoring the past."

Svend Petersen watched the festivities with quiet emotion. He said he was married to his job at the hotel, and beams like a proud spouse. Still, he misses the old days.
"I wish I could go home and tomorrow morning, I would get up at 6 o'clock put my pants on and go to work and run into Marilyn Monroe," said Petersen.

Stars like that may be gone, scenesters flock elsewhere. But Petersen will keep coming back, to walk the hallways of what he calls the “best hotel in the world.”

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