Four currents of opinion were eddying around Montage Beverly Hills long before it opened in mid-November. The first ground-up construction of a hotel in the city since the Peninsula in 1991, Montage is going head-to-head with the area’s so-called Big Six (without reading anything into the order, they are: the Beverly Wilshire, Raffles L’Ermitage, the Peninsula, the Beverly Hills, and, even though they are technically over the border in Los Angeles, the Four Seasons and the Bel-Air). It’s a grand if not grandiose move, one that could take a young and therefore fragile brand like Montage to the next level—or backfire.
One theory is that the pie is big enough for everyone, and nobody has anything to worry about. Another is that Montage will grow the pie, and nobody has anything to worry about. A third says that although the company’s first property, down the coast in Laguna Beach, was a huge hit right out of the gate in 2003, lightning is not going to strike twice, Montage is headed for a sophomore slump, and nobody has anything... The last school of thought about the way things are going to go, voiced with either panic or relish, is that Montage will be a major game-changer and clean up.
Replacing several street-level parking lots, a mothy movie theater, and a branch of the Israel Discount Bank in the “Golden Triangle” formed by Crescent Drive and Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, Montage certainly doesn’t look like any other Beverly Hills hotel, not with its vaulted arcades and terra-cotta–tiled roof. The eight-story, 201-room pile was built in the Spanish-colonial Revival style (since it’s a revisitation of a revisitation, Spanish-colonial Revival Revival is probably more correct), a popular choice for residential estates in the neighborhood since the 1920’s. The commission was won by HKS Hill Glazier Studio, the architects behind assorted Ritz-Carltons and One & Onlys as well as Montage Laguna Beach. As at Laguna, where HKS played around with Craftsman motifs, the goal in Beverly Hills was to suggest a mood, a feeling, not historical correctness. Interior designer Darrell Schmitt was similarly more concerned with atmosphere than accuracy, both here and at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, which launched within days of Montage and takes a steroidal look back at the oeuvre of Palladio. In Beverly Hills, Schmitt cherry-picked from two decorative idioms with deep southern California roots. Mediterranean elements skip from star lanterns and hand-painted tiles to lacy grillwork and brawny furniture with dark wood frames and nailhead trim. Planters and consoles in mottled mirror and pewtered iron channel the flamboyant Hollywood Regency style that William Haines, the actor turned influential decorator, substantially coined, and that by midcentury was in full cry. While the references are too tame and diffuse at Montage to add up to anything that might be called a look, the result is very sumptuous, you might even say voluptuous.
Plush and persuasive as they are, Montage’s visuals are not considered to be its sharpest weapon. Neither is the 20,000-square-foot spa, with its sensual whiff of a Moroccan hammam; three restaurants; park by garden-design darling Nancy Goslee Power; or 44-foot rooftop pool, which is attended by eight cabanas and faced with approximately 1.32 million individually hand-set mother-of-pearl mosaic tiles. If the hotel succeeds, says managing director Ali Kasikci, who ran the Peninsula nearly from the beginning before moving down the street, it will come down almost entirely to service.