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The Classic American Hotels Strike Back

Renovate all you want; you won't know the result until a few years have passed, as everybody learned at the Beverly Hills Hotel. After a 21/2-year makeover, it reopened in 1995 to a lot of world-class kvetching.

Where did all the Hollywood legends go?(They died.)

Where did the old staff go?(They took other jobs.)

What happened to the shabby-genteel hotel everybody loved?(It smelled of mildew, and it was falling apart.)

The Polo Lounge and the Fountain Coffee Shop remained intact, but everything else was so shockingly different, people felt overwhelmed. The authentic new pink was too pink; the gilding was too brash; the Venetian glass chandeliers were simply too much. Excuse me, isn't this Beverly Hills?

Today, seven years later, the hotel's classic banana-leaf wallpaper and pink and green stripes have triumphed. Svend is back. As is the old tennis pro, Alex Olmedo. The Polo Lounge is jammed. The old dress code has been all but abandoned, because if a jacket were required, Brad Pitt wouldn't come. Plans for a new spa are being finalized, tying the pool, cabanas, and restaurant into a Jackie Collins fantasy. Every day feels like the Vanity Fair Oscar party. "This place has always been about power struggles—for booths, for rooms, for chaises at the pool," says Wendy Schnee, director of public relations. "It still is."

Guests are pampered, babied even, with a modern brand of service aimed at the sort of person who orders off the menu just to prove he can. "You ask, we deliver," says Alberto del Hoyo, the general manager. "You don't like the décor?We'll change it."

Yes, it's over-the-top, but so is the New Hollywood. The Beverly Hills Hotel didn't need a careful restoration—it needed to be pumped up, like Pamela Anderson. And that's what has guaranteed its next 75 years.

No, this is definitely not a science.

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