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Beverly Hills Hotel at 100: From Liz Taylor to the Beatles, These Walls Have Seen It All

The Beverly Hills Hotel receives a special present for its 100th birthday: landmark status, the first ever for the city

Its famed bungalows are where Elizabeth Taylor celebrated five honeymoons, and Gene Tierney cheated with a young John F. Kennedy on estranged husband Oleg Cassini. They’re where Howard Hughes hopscotched among five different units for months at a time to avoid being served papers in a lawsuit.

And on Wednesday, the famed "Pink Palace" will add two more notes of distinction.

This year, the Beverly Hills Hotel hits the 100-year mark, and not only will it be officially granted landmark status as part of as series of events honoring its centennial, but it also will become the first building in Beverly Hills to receive the honor since the passage in January of the city’s new historic preservation ordinance.

Also read: Beverly Hills Hotel at 100: Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and a Who's Who of Guests (Slideshow)

The city has designated Wednesday as Beverly Hills Hotel Day, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque, capping off a year of renovations and celebrations.

Part of the landmark ceremony also will be the disinterment of a time capsule buried in 1993 that is said to contain, among other items, cigars owned by Milton Berle and drawings by Tony Curtis, a hotel regular.

In its place will be buried a new time capsule, the contents of which will be revealed at the time of its interment.

A festive day to be sure, but it should be noted that the ribbon-cutting and plaque will miss the actual birthday of the hotel by several months.

The actual opening day was May 12, 1912. Invitations to that event listed the hotel’s address as “somewhere between Los Angeles and the sea.”

In fact, there was nothing there when hotelier Margaret Anderson was given $500,000 by the Rodeo Land and Water Company to build her dream hotel on a 12-acre stretch of land.

“The Beverly Hills Hotel predates the city itself,” associate city planner Peter Noonan told TheWrap, noting that the city wasn’t incorporated until 1914, two years after the hotel’s founding. “The hotel, in all honesty, was one of the drivers behind the city’s formation and city’s creation.” 

“My grandfather said you could see the dust from them leveling the land with a tractor,” recalls Robert Anderson, great-grandson to the original owner and the hotel's official historian. “It was in the middle of nowhere. Every tree that you see west of the Beverly Hills Hotel has [since] been planted.”

As for the “Pink Palace” nickname, even that came later. Architect Elmer Gray’s Mediterranean Revival design was originally coated in white stucco, and would remain so until 1948, when a new shade of paint was applied.

Currently owned by the Sultan of Brunei and managed by the Dorchester Collection, the hotel has passed through many portfolios — including the Bank of America during the Depression, when the property was temporarily shuttered, though the bungalows remained open.

The Polo Lounge was christened in 1941, in honor of Will Rogers and Darryl Zanuck, who often stopped by for drinks after polo matches. It became a famous hub of Hollywood deal making.

Anderson remembers DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg telling him that, “For anyone in show business, there’s one important moment in their life: when they made a deal here at this hotel.”

Also read: 50 Ways Marilyn Monroe Has Been Kept Alive for 50 Years

Svend Petersen has seen it all during his 50 years as lifeguard-turned-ambassador at the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel.

When he began working there, the hotel was serving as location for George Cukor and the cast and crew of “Let’s Make Love.” The film’s stars — Marilyn Monroe, then married to Arthur Miller, and Yves Montand, then married to Simone Signoret — lit up the gossip columns as they carried on an affair in bungalows 20 and 21.

“If Marilyn is in love with my husband, it proves she has good taste,” Signoret famously responded to news of the liaison.

And there was the Kennedy-Tierney affair. “Nobody ever saw him at the hotel,” Petersen said. “He’d always check in and park his car on Crescent Drive. He never walked through the lobby.”

His saddest memory on the job took place on Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was shot. “Every car stopped on Sunset Boulevard for five minutes,” he recalled. “The world just stood still at that time.”

Just months later, the Beatles stayed at the hotel when they stormed America, stopping by the Hollywood Bowl for a history-making set. The night they arrived, Petersen got a call saying simply, “the boys are coming down.” With a thousand teens mobbing the front of the hotel, he opened the back door to find four young men with fake beards.

“Then they took the beards off, and I said, ‘My God! I can’t believe it!” he recalled. “Then George came back afterward with his wife and stayed for a couple of months.”

Speaking of Harrisons, actor Rex wore only a handkerchief over his privates while sunning at the pool. “The funny part of it was that it was a different color handkerchief every day,” Petersen said.

The Golden Era came to a close as the ‘80s rolled in, as Hollywood itself was undergoing a seismic shift with corporations like Sony, Time and News Corp. buying studios.

Ownership of the Pink Palace changed hands three times that decade, finally being sold to millionaire, and then-Fox owner Marvin Davis for $135 million.

Also read: The Beatles and Beyond: Sir Paul McCartney Through the Years (Slideshow)

“He didn’t put anything into it,” Anderson told TheWrap. “There was no emotional attachment with him. I happen to have been in the room with him and talking to him about throwing the party for the 75th anniversary, and in the meantime he’s already talking to the sultan of Brunei to buy the hotel.”

Davis sold the dilapidated hotel to the sultan in 1987 for $200 million and at the end of 1992, it was closed for two years for a facelift — a fresh new coat of pink paint.

Today it remains a popular destination for A-listers, though not like the old days. Harvey Weinstein and his crew celebrated their Best Picture Oscar win for “The King’s Speech” there last year, but it is hardly a hangout for young Hollywood, eclipsed in hipness by establishments like the Standard, the London and the SLS.

Recent restorations, in preparation for its anniversary, included two new Presidential Bungalows with private swimming pools ($15,000 a night), and designer Adam Tihany’s new lobby featuring subdued lighting, pristine carpeting and a banana-leaf center medallion to accentuate the building’s famous banana-leaf wall paper.

Renovations to the rooms and cabanas will be ongoing through 2015.