Thursday, 20 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Beverly Hills, part 2 - Sights And Landmarks

BEVERLY HILLS CITY HALL, 455 N. Rexford Drive, architect: William Gage, 1932

Arguably the grandest city hall in the world, this pretty Spanish Colonial Revival is nestled between the Beverly Hills Police Department (which is, predictably, huge) and the Civic Center. The building's most characteristic features are the mosaic tiled cupola and its - you guessed it! - gilded pinnacle.

GREYSTONE MANSION, 905 Loma Vista Drive, architect: Gordon Kaufmann, 1928

For all the movie star palaces that are dotted all across Beverly Hills, it wasn't a film mogul who erected the city's biggest mansion - but an oil tycoon. In 1928 oil millionnaire Edward Doheny built it for his son, who later was killed in a bizarre shoot-out, involving his lover, a mysterious unidentified young man.

Today, after careful restoration of the grounds, Greystone Mansion belongs to the City of Beverly Hills. The park surrounding the main building is open to the public and affords staggering views of Los Angeles. Greystone mansion has frequently been used as a film location, notably in Death Becomes Her, The Witches of Eastwick, Ghostbusters and recently in P.T. Anderson's brilliant There Will Be Blood, where it stands in as the home of Daniel Day Lewis who plays an oil tycoon whose fate in Anderson's film is not entirely dissimilar to Doheny's.

THE BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL, 9641 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Elmer Grey, 1912

A few years after the official founding of Beverly Hills in 1907, its founder, Burton Green, intending to attract vacationers, came up with the idea to erect a luxury hotel amidst the lush and sumptuous greenery. Hiring the manager of the then prospering Hollywood Hotel, Margaret Anderson, was a brilliant coup on Green's part which quickly paid off, turning The Beverly Hills Hotel into an overnight success.

Besides the glamour of the fabled bungalows, in one of which Marlene Dietrich is said to have had her own bed installed, it was the Polo Lounge with which the hotel is most identified. In there, deals were - and presumably still are - made, and names and scripts are passed around between the wheeler-dealers of Hollywood.

The Beverly Hills has changed ownership several times in its 100-year history, and despite having undergone various renovations, it has lost little of its allure and its original Mission Revival Style features have luckily been preserved from the ravages of time. The hotel's current owner, the Sultan of Brunei, has reportedly spent $ 170 million to purchase it and an additional $ 100 for its restoration. Quite aptly, it is this very hotel that is featured on the cover of the famous Eagles album, Hotel California.

WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL PARK, 9650 Sunset Boulevard

Right across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel is this beautiful little retreat, named after the famous actor and comedian Will Rogers who, besides having been the mayor of Beverly Hills, was a 20th Century Fox contract player and one of America's most popular stars until his death in 1935.


This beautiful, stylish, art-deco affair, was Dietrich's first home upon her arrival in Los Angeles.

Dietrich's story, though often told, is quite exceptional, for not only was she one of the few German actors who made it in Hollywood, her accent notwithstanding, she also managed to embark on a highly successful second career as an entertainer once her career as an actress was one the wane.

Contrary to popular belief, Dietrich did not leave Germany because of Hitler. By the time he rose to power, she had already been in Hollywood for a full three years. However, when he, Hitler, later tried to lure her back to Germany by promising to turn her into a Third Reich film goddess , Dietrich steadfastly refused and by 1939 she had become a US citizen. Heavily opposed to Hitler's Germany, Dietrich played a crucial role in helping many German emigres to gain ground in Hollywood, and at no time made any bones over her opinion of the Nazi leader, rightly and famously supporting the US troops in the war against Nazi Germany.

Even after 1945, her attitude towards her native country remained shaky - and vice versa - and it was not until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that she began to warm again to her homeland and especially her home town, Berlin. Thus, shortly before her death, she expressed her desire to be buried in Berlin, in the very same cemetery as her mother. Her funeral, on 16 May, 1992, broadcast live on German television, was attended by thousands of fans, her grave bulging with flowers and wreaths from fans and admirers from all over the world. A wreath, given by Germany's Green Party, read, "You were the Other Germany", while another one, coming from the European Film Academy, wistfully declared, "Angels Never Die".

WITCH HOUSE, 516 Walden Drive, architect: Henry Oliver, 1921

Looking somewhat out of place amidst the grand mansions that surround this pretty architectural oddity and bonafide remnant of Hollywood's early days, this building's original location was in Culver City.

Built in 1921 by production designer Henry Oliver, the Witch House was part of the Irving Willat Studios. A year later, however, Willat, then in financial difficulties, was forced to close the studio. Subsequently, the Witch House was moved to its present location on Walden Drive in Beverly Hills and has been a private residence ever since.


Part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), this beautiful Mission Revival building, built in the late 1920s, used to be the Beverly Hills Waterworks.

By the 1980s, it was falling to pieces until AMPAS - spending millions of dollars from private donations - saved it from crumbling.

On the building's first floor is the Margaret Herrick Library, named after a former AMPAS librarian, who, so the story goes, is said to have given Oscar its name since it reminded her of her uncle. The Margaret Herrick Library has a staggering collection of film scripts, documents, personal papers, production files, and film related books. It is open to the public and used by film students, writers, and researchers, or anybody whose interest in the history of Hollywood is more than just skin-deep.