A six-hour-plus, cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles always feels long. What immediately comes to mind is that in almost the same length of time, one could fly across the Atlantic to London or Lisbon.
Once upon a time in Hollywood
But my husband and I were headed to Los Angeles, California to cover an event announcing the launch of the new Viking Expeditions. To my pleasant surprise, the plane ride passed far more quickly than I had anticipated. That’s because Delta Airlines was airing Quentin Tarantino’s critically acclaimed two-hour, 40-minute movie, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.
The movie was nominated for ten Oscars and recently was awarded Golden Globes in the categories of Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy; Best Director; and Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Los Angeles and the culture of Hollywood serve as the backdrop for this movie that takes place in 1969.
Soon after, I found myself in the real Hollywood, in a hotel that exudes the nostalgia of the mid-50s.
Checking into a Hollywood Classic
The Beverly Hilton Hotel is located at the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards. At check-in, we were assigned to Room 454 in the Wilshire Tower.
Beverly Hills (one of the cities in Los Angeles County) borders Hollywood so it’s not surprising that Its multimillion properties house many of the biggest stars and power brokers in the entertainment industry. The windows of the luxury boutiques on the city’s famous shopping street, Rodeo Drive, showcase fashions like those seen on the red carpet during the spate of seasonal award shows, including the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, SAG Awards, the Grammys and the Oscars.
The week before our visit, I was home watching the Golden Globes, which were televised from the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton. They have been held in the same location for more than 40 consecutive years. Entering the lobby made me feel like a VIP. The space evokes the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in the 50s and 60s. It’s filled with huge arrangements of purple orchids, sculptured gold walls designed by artist Nancy Lorentz, and a visible abundance of plainclothes security men all around.
The seven-story hotel is large with some 569 guest rooms and 101 suites with panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills. Although the property has been renovated more than once, the hotel still reflects the charm and patina of a golden age in cinema.
Check-in on a Tuesday evening was fast and efficient. The receptionist warned us, in advance, that we might hear noise during the day because rooms were still being refurbished but that never materialized.
Our room at the Wilshire Tower in the Beverly Hilton
In the habit of checking out hotels and resorts before visiting, I had read a rather punishing review by a writer for The Points Guy, which was very disappointing and set my expectations pretty low. But as it turned out, our two-night stay in Room 454 couldn’t have been more comfortable, enjoyable and memorable.
The immaculately clean apartment-size guest room was large enough to hold a full-size sectional sofa and table at one end, and an uber-comfortable California King bed with a high-thread-count white duvet on the other. There was plenty of storage space with drawers, horizontal surfaces and an oversized closet with built-in shelves that held plush robes and slippers).
An iPad with hotel information and connections to housekeeping, room service, etc. sat on one of the nightstands and a cordless phone on the other, both with plenty of USB and conventional outlets to charge electronic devices. A 42” flat-screen TV swiveled between the bed and the sofa. The double chest with a minibar on one side and drawers on the other held an easy-to-access, eye-level electronic safe large enough to stow a computer as well as borrowed Tiffany jewels.
One entire wall held floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that opened onto a huge balcony with a comfortable chair and divan. The décor throughout was a tasteful blend of classic and contemporary. Turndown at night was optional.
The white and gray marble bathroom was large enough to hold a full bath, separate stall shower and private water closet. Chrome handles on the white cabinets beneath the Waterworks sink were designed in a period-style starburst design, that appears in other places across the hotel. We found plenty of plush white towels and mini-bottles of L’Occitane soaps and toiletries.
Another nice touch was the two sets of earplugs placed on the nightstands, each with a card redeemable for a free coffee in the hotel restaurant, Circa 55, along with a note apologizing again for any inconvenience during renovations.
Three things the room did not have that are appreciated by ordinary guests:
- Complimentary bottled water (a tiny bottle of water in the minibar was priced at $ 6.50
- A writing desk
- Wi-Fi is at a charge if you aren’t a Hilton Honors member
Rooms in the four-story Oasis Building (across from the Tower) are less costly but many online reviews, including the one I had read, complain that some are in poor condition unless they have been updated.
A hotel with history
Among Hilton Hotels and Resorts, this one is truly iconic with a long and storied history. The property, which opened in 1955, was developed by hotelier Conrad Hilton (once the husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor). It was built by Del Webb (known for developing Sun City in Arizona) and designed by architect Welton Becketts (who designed the Capitol Records Building in LA). Vice-President Nixon participated in a flag-raising ceremony at its opening and actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were guests.
Always managed by Hilton Worldwide, the property was once owned by talk show host Merv Griffin between 1987 and 2003. An $80 million hotel overhaul was completed in 2008, followed by $19 million in refresh updates after that.
While the hotel interiors have kept up with the times, the striking mid-century modern, retro architecture and the curvilinear driveway leading to the white building remain.
The luxury hotel was the first to offer modern air-conditioning with thermostats in its rooms. Film star and swimmer Esther Williams inaugurated the hotel’s Aqua Star Pool, the largest swimming pool in Beverly Hills, which is heated year-round at a temperature of 82°.
Who’s Who at the Beverly Hills Hilton
In addition to welcoming businessmen and celebrities, the hotel has hosted U.S. Presidents, royalty, and other heads of state—including John F. Kennedy, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Black and white photographs of many of the thousands of celebrities, who either stayed at or visited the hotel, line the various hallways. A few of the factoids we learned:
- President John F Kennedy called the Beverly Hilton Hotel “the Western White House.”
- A fundraiser held here for Kennedy, attended by Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Judy Garland, and Mort Sahl, attracted an audience of 2,800 Democratic supporters.
- In 1988, Cary Grant chose the hotel, one of his favorites, for a one-time-only tribute celebrating his life and work.
- It is rumored that Kennedy used to sneak Marilyn Monroe into the hotel through the employee hallways.
- In 2009, during his first visit to LA as President, Barack Obama took over the top two floors of the hotel.
- In 2012, Whitney Houston died in a bathtub in Room 434, a room since repurposed.
The International Ballroom
The hotel is probably best known as the home of the Golden Globes and Daytime Emmy Awards but it also hosts more than 150 other red carpet events each year. The elegant International Ballroom has three tiers (accommodating more than 1300 people) in front of the stage. The ballroom transforms its appearance and lighting depending on who is planning the party. Functions go off like well-oiled machinery because of the dedicated staff, many of whom have worked at the hotel for decades.
Chowing down at the Beverly Hilton
Along with room and poolside service, the hotel only has one proper restaurant, Circa 55 (named after the hotel’s opening date), which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was Taco Tuesday the night we arrived. The orange and tan-colored upholstery complemented rich walnut furniture reminiscent of the 70s. The deal of the day: A choice of tacos was available at $3 each along with beers for $5.50. We also shared one of the freshest and most delicious Cobb Salad we had ever eaten.
The menu, 95% of which is locally sourced and might be described as California-style cuisine, offers diners more than an ample number of choices. Although you’ll be paying Beverly Hills prices, the food overall is quite good and dining at the restaurant may be more convenient than walking the mile or so to eateries downtown (which may be just as costly).
Poolside and adjacent to the restaurant is the bar that was famously known as Trader Vic’s, claimed to be the original home of the Mai Tai cocktail. Moved from another location in the hotel, critics comment that the bar has lost its luster. The convertible Lobby Bar is an informal gathering place for drinks in late afternoon or evening. Mornings, it’s the spot to grab a coffee, espresso and a limited number of small breakfast items.
The welcoming pool area with heated waters is inviting day and night. After dark, a large wall above the pool projects videos of the nearby beach and the Pacific Ocean. The hotel also has a below-ground Precor fitness room, wellness facilities, and a full-service spa but we didn’t have time to experience them.
An iconic destination hotel
Call me star-struck but we loved our stay at this storied property and enjoyed learning about (and experiencing) some of the touchstones that mark its history. Had we had one more day to stay, we would have also embarked on one of the tours that visit nearby celebrity homes that offer pick-up and drop-off at the hotel.
IF YOU GO
All photo credits (Unless otherwise noted): Jerome Levine
Disclosure: Our room was provided as a courtesy from Viking but any opinions expressed in this post are our own.
Save to Pinterest!