Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where to Stay: Hotel Bel Air

The exterior of Hotel Bel-Air.
Photo courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air
I've always been intrigued by the effortless glitz and glamor that characterizes Hotel Bel-Air, a Los Angeles hotel known as much for its pink Spanish Colonial walls as for its decades-long relationship with Hollywood.

So when the hotel re-opened in late 2011 after a two-year restoration and renovation, I followed the media coverage from publications like Los Angeles Times and Conde Nast Traveler religiously - living vicariously through some of the country's top travel writers and imagining I was at the Hotel Bel-Air pool, sun tanning with the Canyon as my backdrop.

A suite bedroom.
Photo courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air
Hotel Bel-Air's renovation includes some pretty fantastic bits - a design that's updated but still holds true to the property's history, an all-new Spa by La Prairie, and a food and beverage program headed by Wolfgang Puck. But it's the history of this elegant hotel that I love most. Here are some of my favorite moments from Hotel Bel-Airs past and present:

1920: Alphonzo E. Bell acquires more than 600 acres just west of Beverly Hills, naming his new purchase “Bel-Air." With the belief that this spot would become an exclusive neighborhood, he enhances the surrounding area with new roads, utilities, a country club and lush, exotic vegetation.

After renovations, the pool at Hotel Bel-Air retains its classic shape.
Photo courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air
1946: Hotel Bel-Air opens and quickly becomes a favorite of the rich and famous. Hollywood celebrities and world dignitaries are frequent guests at the young and glamorous retreat.

1950s: The natural Californian oasis is the place to be in Los Angeles for stars like Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth. Tony Curtis lives at the Hotel Bel-Air and Redbook magazine hosts a party here in honor of Marilyn Monroe. Grace Kelly regularly visits the hotel and eventually makes it her home, prompting Hotel Bel-Air management to name a suite after her.

1960s: Marilyn Monroe poses for photographer Bert Stern at Hotel Bel-Air just weeks before her death and the shoot, commissioned by Vogue, results in a published book called The Last Sitting. John D. Rockefeller IV and wife honeymoon at the hotel.

A room at Hotel Bel-Air.
Photo courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air
1970s: Hotel Bel-Air undergoes a major restoration that takes three years, bringing colors of the gardens into rooms to create a more residential feel. Now Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco returns for a visit to the hotel on vacation from her castle in Monaco. Richard Nixon writes his memoirs in the Swan Lake suite.

1982: Hotel Bel-Air is purchased by Dallas business woman Caroline Hunt and becomes affiliated with Rosewood Hotel Group. She also buys the adjoining property and builds on the north wing, adding 30 guestrooms and suites. She has five different designers work on a new design in order to refine the look.

The patio and pool of the Presidential Suite.
Photo courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air
2005: Fourteen rooms and suites undergo extensive renovations, with no two rooms sharing the same updates. Hotel Bel-Air is named “Best Boutique Hotel – United States and Canada,” by Departures.

2009: Hotel Bel-Air is completely closed to begin a renovation throughout all 91 guestrooms and public spaces as well as 12 additional guestrooms.

2011: The iconic Hotel Bel-Air, part of The Dorchester Collection, reopens with a refreshed elegance and glamorous charm reminiscent of its history and Hollywood’s Golden Age.

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