Jenny Southan spies super-fast cars, spooky mansions and serious money in the exclusive Californian district.
The audaciously wealthy city of Beverly Hills is home to countless actors, directors and celebrities, many of whom reside in lavish abodes set back from the road. You can join the gaggles of snap-happy tourists if you like, and take a “star tour” in one of the ubiquitous jeeps and buses that cruise around, but a better option is to drive (or take a cab) to Greystone Mansion, the former residence of Ned Doheny, the son of an infamous oil tycoon.
Built in 1928 on five hectares of hillside, the Tudor-style house was the most expensive in California at the time. These days, the building and the park around it belong to the City of Beverly Hills, and in recent years it has been used as a location for many movies – from X Men: First Class and The Social Network to Spider-Man 3 and There Will Be Blood, which was inspired by the life of Ned’s father, Edward.
Greystone has a dark history, though. Within months of Ned moving in with his family, he and his male secretary were found shot dead in one of the rooms in a mysterious murder-suicide. The mansion will reopen in February after a US$2 million revamp, and for the first time will be available to hire for corporate events, but if you are in town before then, you can still walk around the gardens and chat to the rangers, who will speak of how it is haunted. Entry is free. Open 10am-5pm/6pm. 905 Loma Vista Drive; greystonemansion.org
BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL
A short drive back down the sweeping Loma Vista Drive will bring you to one of LA’s most iconic hotels, the Beverly Hills, which you may recognise from the cover of the Eagles’ Hotel California album. The “Pink Palace”, as it is known, was unveiled in 1912 and has hosted many glamorous guests in its rooms and bungalows, which sit beside winding pathways shaded by palm trees. Eccentric film producer and aviator Howard Hughes lived here on and off for 30 years, requesting that staff leave him roast beef sandwiches in the trees so he would not have to see anyone.
If you haven’t got time to enjoy a meal in the Polo Lounge, where the Rat Pack used to hang out, slip down to the poolside Cabana Café (open 9am-6pm). It is the perfect place to enjoy a quick sirloin burger (US$24) or So-Cal omelette (US$18) washed down with a Beverly Hills Iced Tea (US$17) when the sun is shining. The poolside setting has hosted many photo shoots, and everyone from Katherine Hepburn to the Beatles has swum here. 9,641 Sunset Boulevard; tel +1 310 276 2251; beverlyhillshotel.com, dorchestercollection.com.
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THE PALEY CENTRE FOR MEDIA
Your next stop is a few minutes by car down North Beverly Drive. The Paley Centre was designed by Richard Meier, who also built LA’s Getty Centre in Brentwood, and features his trademark “rationalist” style with plenty of white, clean lines and natural light. As well as changing exhibitions of movie props, costumes and cinema posters, it has a free publicly accessible archive of almost every TV show ever made, along with radio broadcasts from 1919 and adverts from 1949 (check the online database if you are interested in specifics). The centre also has a 150-seat screening room, where regular lectures and seminars by industry executives, cast and crew take place.
When I visited, the Debbie Reynolds Collection was on show, a personal hoard of Hollywood treasures that included dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe. From the new year, there will be items on display from the Warner Bros studios, as well as the sets of Friends and Seinfeld. The permanent exhibition of original Hirschfeld caricatures from The New York Times is also worth a look – examine each one carefully and see if you can spot his daughter’s name, Nina, hidden among the pen strokes. Entry is free and guided tours are available on request. Open 12pm-5pm Wed-Sun, closed Mon-Tues. 465 North Beverly Drive; paleycenter.org
THE CHEESE STORE
A few doors down from the Paley Centre is the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. You may not be able to take any home with you, but pop in anyway to try a few samples. Established in 1967, the shop stocks about 550 types of fromage – the most expensive being with truffle (US$50 for 500g) – and caters to the major hotels in the area. It also specialises in Californian cheeses, production of which has been flourishing in recent years, along with mustard, more than 25 types of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, preserves, honey, Iberico ham, Russian caviar, foie gras, and rough hewn slates for presenting your own smorgasbord of deli snacks.
Have a chat with the bespectacled Norbert, the owner, and try a nugget of salty Parmesan or a slice of creamy Abbaye de Belloc, while keeping an eye out for the odd celeb wandering in to get their groceries. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12pm-5pm; 419 North Beverly Drive; cheesestorebh.com. If you don’t like cheese, Carroll and Co (carrollandco.com) at 425 North Canon Drive is the ultimate gentleman’s outfitters, and the ideal place to pick up clothing for any Dapper Dan.
Complete the rest of your tour on foot and at leisure. An amble down Rodeo Drive (one road over from North Beverly Drive) is a must for every fashionista, as it’s lined with glossy boutiques from Ralph Lauren to Chanel. Even if you are not in the mood to shop, it’s a prime spot for soaking up just how much money is floating around here. Pause by one of the perfectly groomed palm trees and you will just as likely notice Botoxed glam-mas walking mini pooches as million-dollar cars.
For the ultimate in engine eye-candy, head for the House of Bijan (bijan.com) at number 420, where you will doubtless spot one of the owner’s Bugatti Veyron super sports cars. Capable of reaching speeds of 408km/ph, it’s the fastest street-legal car in the world and costs no less than US$2.4 million. Although the Iranian designer died in April, his custom made model remains parked outside as a memorial to him. If you want to shop in Bijan’s menswear store, which is appropriately dubbed “the most expensive in the world”, you will have to make an appointment. And make sure your bank balance will be able to handle it. Visit rodeodrive-bh.com