The Beverly Hills Hotel is blowing out one hundred candles on its birthday cake and everyone is reminiscing about stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor who lounged poolside while producers like Robert Evans closed big picture deals in the Polo Lounge.
All that Hollywood talent might have remained right there in Hollywood if not for men like Burton Green, Max Whittier and Charles Canfield. These guys developed the Rodeo Land and Water Company to create a residential community. Green thought the name Beverly Farms fitting. His wife one-upped him and suggested Beverly Hills.
Back then, with unstrung phone poles, dirt roads and empty lots, it was a far cry from today’s glitz. The 1907 recession didn’t help Green, Whittier and Canfield sell lots so they brainstormed The Beverly Hills Hotel. It worked. Easterners flocked to it for the weather. Hollywood types with a little dough took to its rural setting. And in 1963, Dr. and Mrs. Laurence Kaplan, a dentist and dental hygienist looking for a good public school for my brother and me, settled there.
To most of the world, the hotel stood for glamour. Growing up, to my friends and me, it stood for Bar Mitzvah central.
The first time I saw the place I had on black patent-leather party shoes and a yellow chiffon dress so I could celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah in style.
A live band played I’ll Never Stop Loving You for the Mother-Son, Father-Daughter dance. The rest of the night a rock-a-thon played with girls in mini-skirts and boys with long hair. At some point, the photographer shoved my brother and me together where we did our version of the Box Step, which we called the Oil Pump, and pretended to draw oil from the floor. My best friend Lizzie and I plucked olives off the crudités tray and deposited one into every glass of ice water until an irate waiter grabbed us and told us to scram. We danced in and out of the guests, giggling at the low-cut dresses and pretending we were royalty.
Shazam! A decade or so later, Lizzie and I were back, only this time it was for Wedding Central. The tall ceilings, shimmering chandeliers and sprawling dance floor still took the cake. As one of Lizzy’s bridesmaids, I couldn’t help getting misty-eyed thinking about the shenanigans we took part in decades earlier.
Flip the memory book. Shazam! My eldest son graduated from Middle School and then partied at the pink palace. This time EZ Beatz DJ Kirk had the place rocking – it was hot in there; kids dancing, sipping sodas and laughing like crazy.
Flip the memory book again. Shazam! For my fortieth, my bff Renee treats me to lunch at the Polo Lounge.
The real stars behind the Beverly Hills Hotel will always be Green, Whittier and Canfield who saw past the dusty roads and fields and conjured up a pink adobe landmark, which still holds its head up high a century later.