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Beverly Hills Hotel Unveils $100 Million Facelift

May 30, 1995

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ A legend from Hollywood’s past will soon unveil the priciest facelift yet in this mecca of makeovers. It cost more than $100 million, took 2 1/2 years to complete and the look is just stunning, daaahling.

This silent star is the 83-year-old Beverly Hills Hotel, a.k.a. the ``Pink Palace,″ where Howard Hughes lived for 30 years and Elizabeth Taylor hid away with most of her seven husbands.

From its forest green Polo Lounge, birthplace of myriad movie deals, to the pool where Katharine Hepburn once did a back somersault, the decor has been rejuvenated to a ’90s version of its former self.

And that includes restoration of the famous banana leaf wallpaper that lined the hotel’s corridors and Fountain Coffee Shop.

The architects even scraped through 17 layers of paint on the hotel’s pink stucco facade to find the most consistent tone used over the years. The hotel now sports a shade of pink slightly more subtle than that of bubble gum.

Guests will get their first chance to see the resort’s 12 acres of refurbished restaurants, rooms, bungalows and ballrooms at a star-studded grand-opening gala on Saturday.

Where once there was a lobby corridor, there’s now the Tea Lounge with a hand-painted, gold-and-silver leaf piano as its centerpiece.

The ballroom wing was completely rebuilt, with a spiral staircase and a rose-blossom chandelier as a backdrop for those grand entrances.

``The goal was when you walk into the lobby, you are going to say, `I didn’t know it was so beautiful,‴ says Kerman Beriker, the general manager and chief executive officer.

He led the renovation, backed by hotel owner Sajahtera, Inc., part of the country of Brunei’s investment group. The Sultan of Brunei is the world’s richest man, worth an estimated $33 billion in 1993.

``We really wanted to maintain the character and atmosphere of the hotel,″ says architect Edward Friedrichs, as he looks out onto the view of nearby palm-lined streets and gated estates.

``Everywhere we put something new in, it always had to feel as if it was consistent, as if it had always been there.″

But after a 2 1/2-year hiatus for renovation, will Hollywood’s deal makers reclaim their small paradise on Sunset Boulevard?

``It seems to me that since the Polo Lounge closed, they haven’t found the right spot,″ says Nino Osti, the maitre d’ who has seen stars parade through the bar since 1967. ``They’ve tried all different spots, but it’s not the Polo Lounge, it’s not home.″

Osti is ready to welcome Hollywood back, dish up some old favorites, such as Dutch apple pancakes, and tend to the power breakfasts.

For the uninitiated, Osti explains: ``We open at 7 a.m., and you have to realize that 7 a.m. here is already 10 a.m. in New York. These people come in and they need a telephone before a cup of coffee!″

Time is precious in the Polo Lounge, where Osti once served up short-order caviar sandwiches to Richard Pryor, who appeared in ``California Suite,″ a Neil Simon comedy filmed at the hotel.

For movers and shakers who prefer to keep evening hours, the hotel has added the Polo Grill next to the lounge. The wood-paneled room adorned in beige, gold and green promises to be the next ``power dinner″ spot.

``We have a lot of reservations for the cabanas already, mostly old guests coming back,″ says manager Svend Petersen, an Olympic swimmer who joined the staff in 1959. ``They know the pool hasn’t changed, but they’re curious to see the hotel.

``They expected to see stars, and they will see stars. I think they’ll come back. Everybody in show business has been down to that pool since I started, and even before.″

For those who don’t care to see and be seen, the hotel offers its 22 secluded bungalows.

In addition to Hughes and Miss Taylor, the pink hideaways offered privacy for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, and it was there that Yves Montand romanced Marilyn Monroe while they made ``Let’s Make Love″ together in 1959.

The price of such private luxury costs as much as $3,000 per night. Rates for the refurnished and expanded 194 rooms begin at $275 a night.

For all of the hotel’s playful ostentation and a guest book that reads like a Hollywood Who’s Who, the real gems are the memories of its dutiful staff, which numbers 500 during peak season.

Osti still glows when describing an impromptu Polo Lounge concert by the McGuire sisters, a response to his solo attempt at ``Happy Birthday″ for one of them.

``That was singing, that was fantastic,″ he says. ``Immediately, it livened up the whole room. Champagne was flowing back and forth. ... That’s what makes this place special _ jewels. Diamonds, they are small, but they are special.″