HILLS NEWSPAPERS: September 19, 2014
Beverly Hills — swimming pools, movie stars. And a celebrated ZIP code. A century old this year, the 90210 looks as good as it did when the Clampetts came into our pysche in the 1960s.
I picked Beverly Hills for my home base last month on a visit to UCLA. My friends were staying in Westwood, but I found it devoid of charm. Just 10 minutes away was a town of lush parks, impressive architecture and celebrated Rodeo Drive shopping.
Set back on a street off the main boulevard, I rolled my suitcase through the palm-tree lined patio to the modest front desk of the Crescent Hotel, circa 1927. This art deco beauty had once been the lodging for starlets on contract with nearby studios.
A Southern drawl greeting from Winston, the Crescent’s charming front desk clerk, made me feel instantly at home in this haute hideaway. A stroll down the hall to my room helped to open my eyes to the era, where stars like Greta Garbo and Bette Davis worked directly across the street at then-MCA Studios. The bones of the empire remain, with its massive iron gates and reflective pools.
The staff at the Crescent is well aware of the hotel’s place in Beverly Hills history. The boutique property is lovingly maintained and exquisitely appointed. And the lobby lounge, with its fireplace, sofas and wingback chairs is a local hotspot for live music that goes back to the roots of MCA as an agency for musical talent.The first evening I was there, Simon Kirke stopped by. The drummer from Bad Company did two solo sets in which he sang, played piano and guitar. It had the vibe of a living room concert — something Kirke enjoys when he’s not playing drums with his English rock super group.
But big name musicians don’t play little venues that often. Or do they? On Monday night, a rock-solid foursome called The Cookies sat down in the lounge, led by bass player Bobby Watson of Rufus and Chaka Khan fame. It was a slow burn of cool jazz that attracted a hip mix of travelers and local musicians. Almost in rhythm, bartenders poured jalapeño margaritas and the kitchen staff served up truffle fries and flatbread and large plates of seasonal cuisine.
What struck me about Beverly Hills was the small-town feel. The green and tan trolleys motor merrily along the tree-lined streets as they show happy visitors the sites. A $5 bill will still buy you a 40-minute narrated tour.
Across from the Crescent sits City Hall — a 1930s tribute to the Spanish Renaissance style of architect William Gage. Down the street is the Church of the Good Shepherd, almost as old as the city itself. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe sat in those pews. So did Jimmy Durante and Danny Thomas and a whole cast of Catholics from Hollywood’s heyday.
Much has changed since the days of grand architecture and studio stars. Walk down Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll see something akin to a freak show. But Beverly Hills has worked hard to maintain its image. It’s still a place where dreams come true — even for someone like me who identifies more with Jethro and Elly May than with Brad and Angelina.
If you’re looking for free attractions, see Marilyn Monroe’s kiss-covered crypt at Pierce Bros Westwood Memorial Park and the nearby Annenberg Space for Photography.