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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's nearly impossible to recount the history of Hollywood without mentioning the Beverly Hills Hotel. It's been a discrete hangout for a host of movie icons, rocks stars and rich people. The hotel, which is tucked away in one of the prestigious residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles, is celebrating a 100th birthday this year. And in a city known for tearing down perfectly good buildings to erect places that are even bigger, if maybe not better, the Beverly Hills Hotel remains a beloved landmark.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this appreciation.

KAREN GRISBY BATES, BYLINE: In this part of the world, people don't brag about their advanced age, but the hotel that locals fondly call the Pink Palace is quite happy to acknowledge she's hit the century mark.

CROWD: (Singing) Happy Birthday to you.

(APPLAUSE)

BATES: That's the hotel staff, all 500 or so of them, who gathered for a formal portrait before their own celebration on the sprawling lawn in June.

The Spanish Mission-style building is an icon now, but in the beginning it was the hope of a bunch of desperate real estate investors.

ROBBIE ANDERSON: Beverly Hills went initially on the market in 1906 as a residential development and it was going nowhere fast.

BATES: And this guy should know.

ANDERSON: I'm Robbie Anderson, the great-grandson of the original owner and founder and builder of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

BATES: Anderson's great grandmother, Margaret Anderson, was commissioned by the realtors to create the hotel of her dreams. She built it and people started to come. The city literally grew up around the hotel. And since in the early days there was no school, no city hall, no church, that all happened on hotel grounds.

Today, this place is kind of like the luxury version of "Cheers," the television bar where everybody knows your name. Pull up to the hotel entrance and...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good afternoon and welcome to the Beverly Hills Hotel.

BATES: Regulars are welcomed back by name.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

BATES: Walk into the lobby and you'll find a mixture of guests and locals. Many residents in the nearby mansions drop down for lunch or dinner several times a week. Robbie Anderson says the hotel delights in providing exacting service, whether you're staying the night or doing a drive-by visit.

ANDERSON: There's one little old lady who comes in and they make her a club sandwich every day, that the doorman gives her when she drives through to take home her lunch, in a little pink box.

BATES: That meticulous service and, even more important, fastidious attention to privacy, may be what sets the hotel apart from the hipper, flashier competitors that have sprung up over the century. It's what attracted people like Cary Grant, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hey, Britney. Congratulations, you're on. How does it feel to be out?

BATES: Oh yeah, and Britney Spears. The hotel shooed paparazzi away on her behalf.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Drive off the property.

BATES: Robbie Anderson says the hotel's legendary privacy is probably what drew the late Howard Hughes, then the world's richest man, to live here for years at a time.

ANDERSON: Well, he would keep six or seven rooms and bungalows around the hotel. And he would switch from bungalow to bungalow, where he was going to sleep. And also, he had starlets stashed around the hotel in different rooms.

BATES: One hundred years later, the hotel keeps its secrets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC, "SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME")

BATES: Movie stars still lunch in the Polo Lounge unbothered. Sidney Poitier is here today. The martinis remain cold. The pianist still plays Gershwin and guests still come to have somebody watch over them.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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