LEISURE LETTER 13: IT'S MORE THAN JUST A POOL

LEISURE LETTER 13: IT'S MORE THAN JUST A POOL

A FLOCKING GROUND FOR LOS ANGELES SOCIALITES, THE BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL POOL HAS BEEN A BACKDROP FOR STYLE AND POWER MOVES FOR DECADES.
   
By Christopher Balogh
  

It gestures come hither to anybody that walks the surrounding brick deck. Hollywood mojo cuts through this corner of the California sky. It lives in its own time capsule. Its own weather climate. It looks like a place that raises its own flag and has its own rules with a Pink Palace that sits in the background.

The Beverly Hills Hotel Pool represents firebrand leisure. The pool has been a player in Hollywood’s film history. Movie icons sat poolside. Academy Award-winning films were conceived in cabanas. Nobodies became somebodies underneath the high-rise palm trees. This pool was, and still is, a status symbol.

The legendary pool opened in 1938 as the Sand and Pool Club. The hotel shipped Arizona’s white sand to outline the pool area. Soon after, it became a hot spot for Hollywood elite to relax or for newcomers to be discovered.

Let’s hit the highlights and hijinks.

Fred Astaire could be seen reading the Daily Variety or Hollywood Reporter. Raquel Welch was discovered poolside. Robert Evans, who became the top producer in Hollywood during the 1960s (The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby) also was discovered by actress Norma Shearer and touted him for the role of her late husband Irving Thalberg in Man of a Thousand Faces. Katherine Hepburn once dove fully clothed in the pool after a tennis game. Johnny Weissmuller supposedly signed for the title role of Tarzan. Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall shot poolside for their film Designing Woman. The Beatles snuck into the pool after midnight for a dip. Leonard Bernstein conceived West Side Story in Cabana 3.

It also became a place for a backdrop. A piece of art that hangs in iconic photographs of Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Faye Dunaway, and The Eagles album cover Hotel California.

Beyond the pool being a neon lightning bolt for talent, it also held power moves that weren’t seen to the naked eye, or rather ear.

The poolside phone call system was the way to subtlety bullhorn to the entire pool area that you are here. That you are making moves from your green-and-white striped chaises.

Vanity Fair’s Lisa Birnbach wrote, “Part of the charm of planting oneself at the hotel was that one could be followed by one’s phone calls. The tradition of being paged started in the bar of the Polo Lounge in the 1940s. ‘A [little person] dressed like the Philip Morris bellhop walked around carrying a chalkboard with bells on it, with the guest’s name written in chalk,’ explains Robert Anderson, the great-grandson of the builder and original owner of the hotel, as well as its historian. As the pool became an equally important retreat, operators would forward calls to the pool office. There, they would announce over a loudspeaker the name of the guest who was being sought. When the guest had been located, one of the pool boys or Svend Petersen, the pool manager and lifeguard, would bring over one of the many square, clunky, standard beige push-button phones of the day, which had extra-long cords so they could travel throughout the large patio and pool area.”

This service ended in 1991, when a page accidentally messed up a deal.

The Beverly Hills Hotel Pool is an industry hub, but instead of conference rooms and bottled water, it’s chlorine and cocktails. It became a retreat for the elite. A leisure getaway just up the road. It still has the style and graces of its beginnings, even with its 1990s restoration. The pool will continue to serve all those that enjoy a good dip, and maybe a good tip on the next discovery for Hollywood. California.

Photos for this story Courtesy of
The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows - The First 100 Years” by Robert S. Anderson,
   
About the Author:
Christopher Balogh is a Florida-based writer whose work has appeared in VICE, The Atlantic, Monster Children, Sport Fishing and many other outlets.

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