Historic Structures

Building Description Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills California

The Beverly Wilshire Hotel occupies an entire block on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard, between Rodeo and El Camino Drives in Beverly Hills. It is a nine story plus two basements, E-shaped building in the Second Renaissance Revival style. Of steel-reinforced concrete construction, the structure is finished with brick and terra cotta. With its gracious proportions, dignified styling, and the embellished classicism of the street level arcade and topmost floors, the architecture successfully conveys an image of the building's function, urbanity, and refinement. This fact remains, despite some alterations, most notably, the 1969-1971 addition of a second building and pedestrian bridges in the rear and the modification of a few street level openings. These changes, however, are outweighed by the integrity of the overall design and its potent evocation of the hotel's role as one of the cornerstones of the legend of Beverly Hills.

A correct, Second Renaissance Revival, three part composition organizes the three public elevations of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The first floor "base" is the most elaborate, and contains a continuous arcade of round-headed arches which are either entrances or display windows. Thirteen bays are defined on the principal (north) facade, while seven bays, the south three of which are divided by fluted pilasters, appear on both of the side elevations. Engaged columns, whose capitals incorporate the heads of mythological beasts, flank the openings, and themselves frame smaller arches. These interim arches were originally glazed and now have marble interiors. Each arch has a corbel-like keystone. The columns carry a frieze broken by the larger arches, above which the spandrels are embellished with relief work. Shields, medallions, heads, and swirling foliage are integrated into a design that covers the exposed surface. Above an entablature punctuated by leaf corbels, a panelled balustrade, also extensively decorated, tops the street floor and borders a roof garden on the north. The grand entrance, also on the north elevation, is centered and announced by a broken pediment with an urn set above ornate pilasters. Free-standing, fluted columns flank the arch, which leads to a barrel-vaulted vestibule and a bronze-framed, glazed entry.

The "shaft" of the three part composition encompasses the second through seventh stories. Above the base, the "E" configuration takes shape with its three wings oriented to the north and the spine stretching east to west across the rear. The central leg of the "E" does not project to the same extent as the east and west wings, which have 150-foot frontages. Terra cotta quoining emphasizes the corners of each wing. Multi-hued brick, which has been painted a buff tone, sheathes these floors. Plainly detailed windows, grouped in one's, two's, and three's, are regularly spaced across each elevation. Dark metal casements have replaced the original wood-framed, double-hung sash. On the north facades of the east and west wings, each of which contains five bays, the central and 1 end windows are enhanced by segmental arches and triangular pediments. Firescapes rise from balconies up the central bays of these two wings and occupy a similar position in raised five-bay sections at the south ends of both side elevations.

Above a frieze created by string courses and balustraded balconets, the eighth story, or "capital" of the three-part composition is clad in terra cotta. In all but the central wing of the "E," the eighth floor windows are round-headed, double-hung sash accented by lion keystones and detailed by impost moldings and archivolts. A leaf patterned frieze, studded with medallions, enhances the denticulated entablature which wraps the building above the windows. Above it, a bracketed cornice overhangs the structure. The central wing contains flat-headed casement windows with rusticated surrounds and keystones in the eighth floor. It culminates with a ninth floor penthouse with cantoned corners and tall, arched openings separated by panelled pilasters. Another intensely decorated frieze and the bracketed cornice tops this story.

Unlike the north, east, and west facades, the south elevation is plainly detailed and spans the block in a single plane. The three part organization is merely suggested on this elevation. An addition has been made across the first floor, altering what historic photographs indicate was mostly a utilitarian expanse. Above it, the original hues of the brick exterior have been preserved on the upper floors. Terra cotta quoining and a frieze above the seventh floor articulate the regularly fenestrated elevation. A central focal point is provided by the ninth floor, which contains three arched windows. The new building, known as the Beverly Wing, is located across a decoratively paved private street and connected by two bridges to the roof of the first floor addition. The twelve story Beverly Wing is excluded from the nomination. It is physically separate and is an intrusive addition. Other exterior alterations, some of which were noted above, include some changes to the street level openings, most notably the re-faced and enclosed Tiffany's facade on the northeast corner; reglazed windows; the replacement of the original canvas awning at the entrance with a metal and glass suspended canopy; the addition of awnings to the arcade; and the construction of covered patios on either side of the second floor roof garden.

In contrast to the exterior, the interior has been remodelled numerous times. However, a number of original spaces, materials, and details remains. While the configuration of the lobby and the various retail, restaurant, and service facilities on the ground floor and mezzanine has changed in many respects, the central core is still a two story space dotted with marble columns and overlooked by balconies and archways. The decoration of the balconies has been changed and the capitals of the columns covered. The coffered ceiling is mostly intact, although repainted like the murals in the frieze, and the Tennessee marble floor remains beneath the carpeting. Handsome bronze elevator doors are located on both the lobby and mezzanine levels, with circular floor markers in the arched pediments over the lobby level doors. Some fragments also survive, such as a hugh marble fireplace, now used as a frame for a display case, and segments of carved woodwork in the mezzanine ceiling. Even a few furnishings, including the chandeliers and four metal settees are original. One of the public rooms, in particular, is substantially as it was on opening day. Now called the Petit Trianon, the mezzanine level space was originally the Venetian Room.

It was intended for smaller gatherings than the ballroom, and its more intimate decor featured delicately panelled walls of Italian, pink-tinted mirrors. The majority of the mirrors are still in place, as are some original moldings, relief work, and hardware.

The upper floors, whose floor plans are varied from level to level, are characterized by the same combination of old and new. Some original panelled mahogany doors and three open, iron-railed staircases characterize the corridors. The individual rooms have been re-decorated, the kitchens of the apartment units have been converted to bathrooms, and some larger suites have been broken up. However, some details, such as panelled wall treatments, some bathroom tile, and some bathroom fixtures are still in situ. The most remarkable survival is one of two original ten-room apartments on the eighth floor. These lavish spaces, intended to accommodate the gracious lifestyle of long-term residents, featured hallways punctuated by Corinthian columns and illuminated by glass mosaic skylights, panelled libraries, fireplaces, three bedroom suites, servants' quarters, and a private roof garden.

Substantially intact, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel continues to be a dominant physical presence on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. It marks the border between the commercial and residential districts and is the focal point for Rodeo Drive, one of the most well-known shopping streets in the world.