- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

She goes by many names: the Pink Palace, Los Angeles Landmark, Playground to the Stars, Hollywood Hot Spot. She’s a grand and stately lady, all 203 rooms of her, all 21 unique bungalows and 12 lushly landscaped acres of towering palms. She’s a party girl, too.

She dates to 1912, when, for a then-whopping $500,000, she opened exactly halfway between Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.

She’s the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, at an address so exclusive that for years it was self-described simply as “on Sunset Boulevard.”

Today, 100 million makeover dollars later and with a ritzy new spa, she’s looking finer than ever: The signature banana-leaf wallpaper is still here; the cozy, countered coffee shop still looks like a movie set; and the Polo Lounge is still populated by stars and music executives working deals over power breakfasts and lunches.

If these walls could talk, they’d tell how:

• In the ‘40s, Howard Hughes took up residence in the bungalows and lived here off and on for the next 30 years.

m The legendary pool and Cabana Club became the setting for Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall in 1957’s “Designing Women.”

• Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand stayed in Bungalows 20 and 21 while filming “Let’s Make Love.”

• Elizabeth Taylor spent five of her honeymoons at the bungalows.

• Charlie Chaplin checked in when he returned to Hollywood in 1972, after a prolonged absence, to accept a special Oscar.

• “California Suite” was filmed here after being written by frequent guest Neil Simon.

• Singers including Madonna and Mariah Carey have requested Bungalow 5’s four bedrooms and private pool.

• Tom Cruise and his agent brokered a movie deal here.

• Director Ang Lee took up residence at one point.

Also, if these walls could talk, they’d tell an amazing tale of how a handsome young swimmer from Denmark had a few starring roles of his own but none more rewarding than “Poolside Prince of the Pink Palace,” a title given him by Los Angeles Magazine.

Svend Peterson, a charming man, gleefully recalls a 41-year career that gave him access to the biggest stars in Hollywood’s halcyon days. He has traded his pool-manager title for his new role, hotel ambassador, and traded in the trademark white shirt, shorts and sneakers for a dapper suit and tie.

Nowadays, instead of tending the 12 lower and eight upper cabanas at poolside, he is more likely to regale visitors with tales of those good old days — when he served Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Princess Grace and Gregory Peck.

Stars such as Val Kilmer, Uma Thurman, Barbra Streisand, Jason Priestley, Rupert Everett and Jean-Claude Van Damme have all gotten their feet wet in the hotel’s competition-size pool under Mr. Petersen’s care. He even taught Faye Dunaway the ‘40s freestyle crawl she needed to learn for her film “Mommie Dearest.”

In his native Denmark, Mr. Petersen was a well-known competitive swimmer specializing in the 100- and 200-meter breast stroke in international competitions.

In the late 1950s, he was a waiter for the U.S. ambassador in Copenhagen. “That’s how I met Hope Lange and Don Murray,” he says. “They came to cocktail parties. They said, ‘Svend, if you ever want to come to the United States, we’ll be happy to sponsor you.’ So I wrote them a letter, and they sent all the papers into the embassy, and that’s how I started.”

Arriving in the United States in 1959, Mr. Petersen was able to get a job as a lifeguard at the Beverly Hills Hotel, never dreaming he one day would be chatting in Swedish with Ingrid Bergman or running into a breathless blond bombshell.

“The first week I was here, I went to pick up my mail, and who comes around the corner at 7 o’clock in the morning? Marilyn Monroe. I just was numb,” he says. “She said: ‘Good morning. I’m late,’ in that breathless voice of hers. It turned out her limo had been waiting for an hour. [She looked] sensational. She wore the tightest dress. She was gorgeous, phenomenal.”

Like countless others arriving here, Mr. Petersen had some Hollywood dreams of his own. He had roles in “The Prize” with Paul Newman and Elke Sommer and in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain” with Mr. Newman and Julie Andrews. It appeared he was headed for a promising acting career and even was featured alongside James Caan, Juliet Mills and Sally Kellerman in the “Future Stars” section of a 1966 “Who’s Who in Hollywood” gossip magazine.

Then the strain of auditioning constantly while holding a full-time job forced him to make a choice — one he says he has never regretted. Mr. Petersen was named pool manager in 1964 and left briefly in 1987, but he returned when new owners bought the hotel and sought him out. Mr. Petersen says he was happy to mingle with, and care for, the guests he had missed so much.

“Over the years, there have been more stars staying here than ever have been to a studio,” Mr. Petersen says. “It’s a safe place, and people feel at home. They relax.”

MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY

The best part of the job? “Dealing and talking with people,” Mr. Petersen says. “To make people happy and make them feel great. I think that’s what I’m about. I like seeing people smile and have a great time. Basically, you’re trying to make this place their second home, so when they come out here, they hate to leave. When they say that, then you know you made a good impression.”

The list of those Mr. Petersen has impressed over the years reads like, well, the Walk of Fame.

“I remember in 1960, we had Phyllis Diller, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson all staying here. Phyllis Diller was doing a nightclub act on Sunset. Merv Griffin was trying to get his show out here from back East, and Johnny Carson was trying to do ‘The Tonight Show’ out here. They stayed in the hotel for a couple of months, so I started knowing them.

“Phyllis Diller, I taught how to swim. I mean, we had so much fun. Johnny Carson — a fabulous guy — you didn’t find them any nicer than him.”

Mr. Petersen thinks the stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s “were really stars.” The years and security concerns have brought a change, he says.

“You would talk to them. Now you don’t get 10 feet close to them because there are bodyguards around them; it’s so dangerous. But in those days, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, you could go right up to them and talk to them, and they were like everybody else. There was no attitude about it. In those days, a starlet was a starlet.”

The pool was an attraction for stars. Mr. Petersen remembers Lucille Ball coming to play backgammon. Fred Astaire, he says, “used to come walking around the pool every Friday to get Variety and the Daily Reporter. When he walked, it looked like dancing.”

The hotel also has been a favorite with visitors from the East Coast.

“I remember the time Elizabeth Taylor came down with John Warner,” Mr. Petersen says. “She was very heavy in those days. She was at the pool with her daughter, and people walked by and whispered. I couldn’t stand that, so I went over and talked to her, and I said: ‘You know, I have two great cabanas up there. You could sit up there and nobody would bother you.’

“The Beatles — in ‘64, I had them here. Their manager called me one morning and said: ‘Svend, the boys are here. They’re coming this afternoon.’ But there were all these screaming fans out front, so he said, ‘Let them in the back door, and give them two upper cabanas.’”

STARLETS TO POOCHES

As Hollywood has changed, the Beverly Hills Hotel has evolved. While it maintains its unique celebrity style — and remains a popular site for Oscar parties — this five-star property has become a home away from home for a growing number of business heavy hitters, jet-setting singing sensations and music-industry executives. With good reason.

The Beverly Hills Hotel is classic yet comfortable — so homey, in fact, that the guest rooms have doorbells, their own assigned fax and phone numbers, a TV at eye level to the bathtub, and sumptuous linens. Then there’s afternoon tea in the lobby and, yes, that all-important location, location, location. There’s even courtesy chauffeured limousine service to the Rodeo Drive shopping district and Century City offices.

A large spa was developed in association with a Swiss skin care company, and for pampered pooches, there is a canine connoisseur program.

Today’s Beverly Hills Hotel is a pup’s hotel heaven. Each pooch gets the star treatment, from being greeted by name to being personally escorted to its room, where a custom doggie bed and bowl await, along with a personalized bone-shaped cookie. Room service offers doggie meals, and any owner called to a meeting need not worry; there’s a 24-hour dog-walking service.

Pooch pampering is one thing, but the hotel built its reputation on people pampering.

That component got revved up a notch with the opening of the Beverly Hills Hotel Spa by La Prairie.

The company traces its roots to Clinic La Prairie in Montreux, Switzerland, where the rich and renowned have gone for skin repair and rejuvenation for more than a half-century.

Planners said finding the right spa fit for such a legendary property, especially in such a historic setting, took time and patience. During the 1992 renovation, for instance, every removed plant had to be replanted in its original location.

In designing the concept for the boutique spa, Los Angeles architect Dianna Wong chose a “timeless environment” to recharge and renew the senses. “Pure and natural tones are carried throughout the spa,” she says. “The reception area features a walnut desk with a pewter-leafed face and an alabaster chandelier that casts soft light on a carpet splashed with abstract palm fronds, the signature motif of the Beverly Hills Hotel.”

The spa, which operates daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., features La Prairie’s unique caviar firming and cellular facials, microdermabrasion, retexturizing and other skin care remedies among its 40 treatments.

The 1,916-square-foot spa has six treatment rooms, including one couple’s suite; separate steam rooms and saunas for men and women; and state-of-the-art innovations, including a hydrotherapy tub with seven hydro-massage zones.

For off-the-chart pampering and tranquillity, the spa provides in-room and poolside cabana services. Pool-boy-turned-hotel-ambassador Svend Petersen approves.

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The Mobil five-star, AAA five-diamond Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows is a member of the Dorchester Group. The address is 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Call 800/283-8885 or visit www.beverlyhillshotel.com.

Amenities include the famous pool and cabanas, two lighted tennis courts, meeting space and a state-of-the-art 24-hour fitness center.

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