TBT: The Westwood Marquis Hotel

Los Angeles has had great, grand hotels, the Biltmore, the Roosevelt, Hotel Bel Air, the Chateau Marmont, the Beverly Wilshire and, let’s not forget the Pink Palace, the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. The Westwood Marquis was not a Hollywood landmark dating back to tinseltown’s Golden Age. It just pretended to be.

Still, when you visit the reimagined W Los Angeles hotel standing at 930 Hilgard Avenue in Los Angeles today, its modernity is bland and gauche, compared to the European majesty to which the Westwood Marquis aspired.

Of course, the 1990 film Pretty Woman put both Julia Roberts and the Westwood Marquis on the map. But the hotel that represented established wealth and class in that beloved film actually underwent a makeover as extensive as Roberts’ character did.

The Westwood Marquis was a former UCLA dormitory, called La Mancha Residence Hall. Sure, it was a ritzy high-rise dorm, with posh singles and suite. The food ranked somewhat higher than the traditional Salisbury steak school lunch, but it was a hostel nonetheless. The dorm closed in 1974. First it was transformed into Carriage House, then Westwood Hyatt House, then the Westwood Marquis emerged, the place where Vivian Ward shot pool and became pretty woman.

At that point, when the hotel developers took over, they had a choice of choosing contemporary luxury or old world charm to attract high-paying guests. They decided on the latter, catering not only to the rich, but to those who sought the historic. The hotel made you feel as if you had stepped away from the UCLA campus into the world of Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor. It described itself as a “garden resort within the city.” The manicured landscaping made the outdoors as lovely as the interior. You could walk down winding pathways, alongside flowering shrubs and, when winded, sit beneath the shade of awning trees.

Indoors, elaborate floral arrangements matched the rich color of Asian rugs. French tapestry covered the marble walls. The mahogany wood furniture gleamed with brass trim.

There was a sitting room, with the relaxing air of a parlor in a private home, boasting Queen Anne wing chairs, decadently soft divans and lacquer cabinets displaying expensive objects d’art. This is where high tea was served Monday through Saturday from 3 pm to 5 pm, which included sherry, finger sandwiches, pate, caviar petit fours, cookies and a selection of teas. A classical harpist played in the background, the perfect accompaniment to scones.

The three restaurants, the Dynasty Room (named after its collection of early Chinese antiques from the T’ang Dynasty), Garden Terrace and Marquis Gardens became famous meeting places for the elite. Indeed, the Terrace’s Sunday brunch gained fame in its own right. Even in the eighties, the diners still dressed up to match the formality of their surroundings, encased in green and white trellises. Domaine Chandon champagne was served with lobster tail.

Evening dining was an affair of quiet manner and tone, reminiscent of a golf announcer’s, as opposed to the raucous party events that define the W Los Angeles, today.

As to the Westwood Marquis sleeping quarters of yesteryear, no two suites were alike, but all had separate sitting rooms and dining tables. On the penthouse floor, each of the 17 suites came with a private butler, who served guests from his own stocked pantry of delicacies and spirits. Hector Elizondo made a fine concierge in Pretty Woman, but having your own Jeeves was really living the fantasy. Of course, the Westwood Marquis had its own version of Elizondo’s character Barney Thompson, two graduates of the Les Clefs d’Or, the international society for concierges. The prestigious female concierges attended to the guests’ every request.

Crème de la crème, the Westwood Marquis’ presidential suite contained 3 bedrooms, a wet bar and a table that sat 12.

Hailing cabs was left to the hoi polloi, the Westwood Marquis provided complimentary limousine service to surrounding areas.

For relaxation, there were two swimming pools, an expansive sun deck, private cabanas, his and hers health spas, with sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi; facilities for massage and facials and a gym.

In 1990, all of this luxury could be yours for $215.00 per night, which included a spa bath and gift, breakfast in bed, limousine service and a late night cappuccino in the romantic Westwood Lounge.

These extravagances are still commonplace in New York hotels, but for Los Angeles, it’s a dying breed of elegance. Hotels today are lavish, but not regal. Sometimes one seeks splendor over splash.

Paging, Dr. Emmett Brown! We’re in Hollywood, the ideal place to ask that someone make a movie where one enters the W Los Angeles and is transported back in time to the wonder of its predecessor, the Westwood Marquis.

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