The Hollywood History of Hotel Bel-Air
BY MICHAEL VENTRE
The courtyard outside the plush $13,500-a-night (and up) Presidential Suite.
When Hotel Bel-Air is mentioned, the mind suddenly becomes awash in ambrosial images of elegant seclusion and natural wonders. Nestled on Stone Canyon Road, just minutes from the bustling centers of Beverly Hills and Westwood, its quiet reputation has swelled over the years to almost mythic proportions, and there isn’t a celebrity or dignitary worth his or her Guccis who hasn’t graced its hallowed space.
|Marilyn Monroe in 1962, posing for her Bert Stern photo shoot.|
Over the past couple of years, however, this idyllic portrait has been altered considerably. Although it is generally frowned upon to tinker with works of art, in this case the changes are embraced. Hotel Bel-Air, owned by the Sultan of Brunei’s Dorchester Collection, underwent a comprehensive multimillion-dollar renovation in which just about every aspect of the interior has been nipped, tucked, cleansed, and updated—in fact, it was closed for approximately two years, considered lunacy among the commoners of the hostelry world—leading to its grand reopening last month.
An Icon's New Look
Thanks to the design collaboration of Alexandra Champalimaud and the Rockwell Group—Champalimaud oversaw the rooms and suites for the most part, while Rockwell handled the dining and entertainment venues—the hotel maintains the dashing aesthetic of Spanish Colonial architecture that lured countless members of Hollywood royalty through its corridors for decades with a deft mixture of pleasing indooroutdoor experiences.
The revised furnishings and colors come from an eclectic palette, but follow a consistent theme of understated grace. Changes such as 12 new contemporary hillside guest rooms and three new loft guest rooms with sweeping canyon views; a complete restoration of the bar, restaurant, terrace, ballroom, and boardroom; a new reception area, boutique, and lobby lounge; the new La Prairie spa building; and the residency of Wolfgang Puck for all dining aspects, including the acclaimed Sunday brunch, all combine to push the refresh button on an already revered institution.
All told, the new version boasts a total of 103 guest rooms and suites, including the Presidential Suite, which is actually more of a 6,775-square-foot compound with private dining for 10, a chef’s kitchen, private pool, and grand piano. A one-night stay there begins at a tidy $13,500. The result is a warm feeling of staid familiarity, but with renewed panache.
For actor Robert Wagner—who practically grew up at the hotel—the dining, cocktails, plush accommodations, and glitzy clientele all compete on his personal nostalgia meter. But it always comes back to the horses. “My family moved to Bel-Air in the mid ’30s, when it was mostly stables there,” recalls the legendary Hollywood leading man. “My father had horses, and we used to ride out of there. I had a very good friend who ran a little tearoom. Her son and I and John Derek took care of the horses. I also worked as a pool boy. “Then my mother lived there. I think she was the longest resident of the hotel: 23 years,” says Wagner. “I was a regular and grew up at the stables. I go back [with the hotel] a long time, with a lot of wonderful people.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY © REX USA LTD (MONROE); © MARC WANNAMAKER/BISON ARCHIVES (TERRACE, AERIAL, POOL, MARTIN); JENNIFER BOGGS (GRACE KELLY SUITE); JOE SCHMELZER (ROOM SHOTS)
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.