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A century of the Beverly Hills Hotel

Adriene Hill May 11, 2012

A century of the Beverly Hills Hotel

Adriene Hill May 11, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: It’s the rare Hollywood star that lasts more than a generation or two. So the exceptions really stand out — among them, the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s pink with lush gardens and palms trees. You can almost smell the old Hollywood — with the emphasis on old.

This weekend is its 100th anniversary. And in true Hollywood fashion, the Beverly Hills Hotel is trying to keep up with all the younger and prettier luxury hotels out there.

Marketplace’s Adriene Hill reports.

Adriene Hill: Luxury hotels are a lot like movie stars. They need a little work done now and then to stay relevant in this youth-obsessed town. Face-lifts help.

Construction workers are remaking the lobby at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Hotel manager Edward Mady says an older hotel also needs to know how to hold on to the spotlight, the higher profile the better. I met up with him at the hotel’s Polo Lounge.

Edward Mady: I try to sit at table number six on a daily basis, to have breakfast, and you might wonder why table six.

Hill: I do.

Mady: Marilyn Monroe used to sit there every time she came to the hotel, she actually lived here for a short period of time.

Hill: And so do you channel her? What happens?

Mady: I just want to be associated with stardom, I suppose.

Elizabeth Taylor stayed here with six of her seven husbands; Marlene Dietrich lived here for years, ignoring the hotel’s “no slacks for women” dress code; and legend has it that that Leonard Bernstein came up with “West Side Story” sitting pool side.

But it was the Beverly Hills Hotel that created Beverly Hills, not the other way around. The hotel was built two years before the city was incorporated.

Robert Anderson: Downtown Beverly Hills was just a trolley stop along with way.

Robert Anderson’s great-grandmother opened the hotel. She got the land for free, because the developers were desperate to attract new residents.

Anderson: Beverly Hills went on the market in 1906. And the sales were very slow, there was only six houses built in Beverly Hills by 1911.

The hotel opened in 1912 and the plan worked. The luxury rubbed off on Beverly Hills. Lima bean fields gave way to mansions.

Molly Berger is a professor at Case Western University.

Molly Berger: Cities themselves like to have wonderful hotels, because it shows off the city.

Or what a city wants to be. Today, the tables have turned. Berger says the glamour of the city the hotel helped to create, now bolsters the hotel’s luxury cred.

Berger: It really has this cache of being in Beverly Hills.

So it’s pink, it’s classy, it’s experienced, it’s in the right place, it knows the right people. But what makes the rooms and bungalows here worth anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars a night?

Sure, the beds are soft. There are TVs in the bathrooms. But it seems, simply it’s a price people are willing to pay. And it turns out age has something to do with that price.

Jan Freitag is an analyst at STR Global. He says the cost of a room changes over the life of a hotel.

Jan Freitag: It starts high, and then it deteriorates over time. For the first 20 or 30 years.

There’s a middle-age slump. And then, sometime around year 80 or 90, the rate pops back up.

Freitag: There are very few who make it through that life cycle that long, because it needs a lot of upkeep.

Too bad Hollywood isn’t as kind to its other aging stars.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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