This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Plunge into the Beverly Hills Hotel pool and you might come out famous. It's where Raquel Welch and Robert Evans got discovered, Esther Williams swam each morning and The Beatles swashed by moonlight. Katharine Hepburn dove in clothed, while Tallulah Bankhead reportedly did so naked. In a cabana, Yves Montand romanced Marilyn Monroe. Boorish Rex Harrison greeted longtime pool manager Svend Petersen wearing nothing but a strategically placed handkerchief, a different color every day, and Fred Astaire walked around the perimeter as if life itself was a graceful dance.
"There were so many beautiful stars there and so much action," recalls actor and habitue Robert Wagner. "Afterparties, movie meetings. It's the embassy of Hollywood!" It was a great place for a young actor to get recognized, he says. "But no belly flops. You'd want to do a pretty clean dive."
Still the perfect place to be seen, the pool has just resurfaced after a three-month, multimillion-dollar renovation befitting the Pink Palace, which turned 100 last year. "Everything was custom designed to preserve what the hotel represents: the glamour, the stripes, the pink, the green," says renowned designer Adam Tihany, who was responsible for the refresh. "I commissioned a banana-leaf mural, and we created a new umbrella that makes you feel like you're under a banana tree." Service has entered the 21st century.
Before the remodel, food was not available poolside, and the adjacent Cabana Cafe didn't serve dinner. (Maybe that's why Howard Hughes had staffers leave roast beef sandwiches in the tree outside his cabana late at night.) Now, guests can order the hotel's famed McCarthy Salad while sunbathing, the cafe has been expanded with an open-show kitchen, and the less prestigious upper-level cabanas were replaced by a pool terrace, where dinner will be served starting in the fall. "We're creating one of the most romantic spots in L.A. to dine alfresco," says Tihany, "not just for the bathing-suit crowd, but for people in cashmere and Jimmy Choos."