Tuesday, October 18, 2011

After a 2 year renovation, Hotel Bel-Air reopens as Hollywood continues its facelift

Just a little over two years ago, I covered an old school Hollywood staple that was about to get a facelift. No - I'm not talking about a person ... I'm talking about Hotel Bel-Air.

Nestled in the very heart of the exclusive and private (if you want it to be) Bel-Air Estates neighborhood - which, together with Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills forms Los Angeles' "Platinum Triangle" - Hotel Bel-Air and it's 12 acres of lushness sit only minutes from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.

Interestingly enough, Hotel Bel-Air was originally the real estate office for the Bel-Air Estates housing development. Alphonso Bell had purchased the land in the early 1920s and quickly announced that this would be “a haven of rest for the businessman who toils in big, noisy, congested Los Angeles.” It wasn't long before the entrepreneurs and business leaders were building multi-million dollar homes in a time when a $20,000 home was considered expensive. Ironically, he would not sell to anyone in the film business until the Depression when the rules were relaxed and Hollywood discovered Bel-Air.

In 1942, Mr. Bell turned the management and maintenance of the neighborhood over to the Bel-Air Association. A few years later, in 1946, Joseph Drown purchased 18 acres on Stone Canyon Road and ever-so-quietly began remodeling the real estate office and started adding buildings to create the complex of guest rooms and suites.

Hotel Bel-Air's lush landscape.
He transformed the grounds into lush California oasis and it quickly became a favorite of the rich and famous. Hollywood celebrities and world dignitaries were frequent guests at the young and glamorous retreat - Grace Kelly, Jackie Gleason, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Later, Richard Nixon would seclude himself there to write his 1978 memoirs. Even celebs of today look to Hotel Bel-Air for their privacy - Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie ... even Ms. Oprah Winfrey chose to celebrate her 50th birthday there.

While numerous updates and renovations have been completed since the 1940s, none could hold a candle to the latest nip and tuck.

After being closed for a 2 year renovation Hotel Bel-Air has just reopened as "A Legend Reborn" - complete with a new spa and fitness studio and 12 new canyon-facing rooms, which takes the official room count from 91 to 103. The new rooms boast private infinity-edge spa pools which gaze out over some of the most precious real estate in California.

Yes, please. Where do I sign?

But, as per usual in Hollywood, all of the fanfare comes with a heaping side of contention.

Chris Rodell reports for msnbc.com:
But while celebrities may soon be a regular sight again at the 12-acre Los Angeles property, many of the union workers who once made the beds, washed the towels, ironed the wedding dresses and carried room-service trays will be missing.

Most of the staff of 250 was laid off in 2009 when the iconic hotel closed for a multi-million dollar renovation, which their hospitality workers union says was a pretense to eliminate union jobs. Only a handful of the former union workers were rehired, prompting the union to call for a boycott.

“We’re asking that no one eats, meets or sleeps at the Hotel Bel-Air until these employees are rehired,” said Leigh Shelton, spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents 20,000 Southern California hospitality workers. “We’d like to see them get priority hiring consideration as jobs open up and reasonable compensation for what they’ve already lost.”
I wonder how that's working out.

Anyhoo - the renovations at Hotel Bel-Air are part of a string of expansions and improvements aimed at cleaning and polishing the gems of the "Platinum Triangle", as well as Hollywood proper. In addition to multi-million dollar nips and tucks at the The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Peninsula Beverly Hills and The Four Seasons, Paramount Studios - ostensibly the last big studio in Hollywood - has also jumped on the bandwagon with its recently unveiled $700 million plan to rejuvenate itself.

Rendering of the proposed Bronson Gate at Paramount Pictures
Currently, the Paramount Studios lot is a cramped array of stages, offices, trailers and support facilities such as woodworking mills that date to the early 20th century. The layout is pretty much a mind-bending maze in part because Paramount bought the former rival RKO studio lot from Desilu Productions thus creating the lot as it stands today.

The upgrade, which will cover 62 acres - its 56 acre studio lot on Melrose and six adjacent parcels - will reshuffle and update facilities to modernize the campus, improve circulation and add new, much needed, sound stages and offices. To create space, four 5,000 square foot sound stages will be demolished to make way for five huge new 20,000-plus square foot sound stages.

Even in it's current confined and restrictive state, Paramount operates around the clock with as many as 5,000 people a day, most of them working for independent producers who rent facilities on the lot to film shows such as American Horror Story, Hung, Glee and NCIS: Los Angeles. Imagine what they will be able to do post-reno.

Postcard and brochure for the Hollywood Project - [CurbedLA]
But, don't expect changes to happen overnight. Paramount first has to file a master plan application with the city and begin work on the environmental review process. It also will reach out to neighbors and business owners in the area to explain the development (see right) and get their support in what is being billed as the Hollywood Project. The process, which will have to include multiple public hearings, could take at least two years.

As a footnote - in an economy when jobs are needed, I'd like to point out that according to the LA Times, the Paramount expansion would create nearly 7,300 jobs during construction and accommodate 5,500 permanent workers at the studio.

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