Historical Hotel Bel-Air entrance sign with swan cutout
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Hotel Bel-Air – celebrating 75 years

August 01, 2021

Hotel Bel-Air opened in 1946, making this year our 75th anniversary. Take a trip back in time to journey through our legendary history and discover how it all began, highlighting the creation of Bel-Air itself.

Tale of an entrepreneur

Our story begins in the 1920s with the creation of Bel-Air as the ultimate community of exclusivity. The area was named after entrepreneur Alphonse E. Bell, who masterminded the building of the Bel-Air estates in 1922, after acquiring over 600 acres of land to the west of Los Angeles.

JM Danziger Ranch horse and handler in Bel-Air stables
Overhead historical photo of Danziger Ranch in Bel-Air

A new neighbourhood

Determined that the estates would become an upscale neighbourhood, Bell set about enhancing the surrounding area with new roads, utilities, a country club and lots of lush vegetation. The hotel grew from his vision to turn the best-situated land in Los Angeles into a place for ‘the kind of people you would like to know and have as your neighbours’. It’s this clear vision that still thrives today.

An exclusive enclave

Bel-Air officially opened in October, 1922 with uniformed guards at the gate, which was a first for any local community. These powerful iron gates still mark the impressive entry to Bel-Air, just north of the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Bel-Air Road, offering a strong sense of leaving the rest of the world behind.

Danziger ranch in Bel-Air 1921
Office on Bel-Air grounds circa 1940s

A glimpse of the past

What’s now Hotel Bel-Air’s main mission-style building was originally built as Bell’s estate planning and sales offices. These offices were located next to the Bel-Air Stables, where residents would collect their horses and ride out across winding trails through the scenic canyons.

A hotel is born

In 1946, a Texan hotel entrepreneur named Joseph Drown bought 18 acres of land from Alphonzo Bell, including the estate’s mission-style building. He immediately began transforming the site into the elegant and secluded hotel we enjoy today. The property officially opened on August 24, 1946 and quickly became a favourite with the rich and famous.

Historical photo of Hotel Bel-Air courtyard with fountain
History photo of Marilyn Monroe leaning on diving board in white swim suit

Celebrity following

Hollywood celebrities and world dignitaries were frequent guests at our glamorous retreat. Marilyn Monroe did her last photo shoot at the hotel, Grace Kelly celebrated her Oscar win in one of our suites, and Elizabeth Taylor lived here during her marriage to Nicky Hilton.

Gorgeous gardens

Joseph Drown transformed the grounds into lush, beautiful gardens, adding Swan Lake to the picturesque front lawn. His dream was to create a natural California oasis, filled with swaying palms, an abundance of fig trees and colourful blooms. He also created our beautiful oval-shaped pool over the site of the original riding ring – hence its distinctive shape.

1960s Historic photo of lake and gardens at Bel-Air
Bert Stern black and white photo of Marilyn Monroe on chair
© Bert Stern Trust

Marilyn captured on camera

On a June afternoon in 1962, Marilyn Monroe arrived at Hotel Bel-Air – alone and five hours late –ready to discard her inhibitions for the camera of legendary photographer Bert Stern. The 12-hour photoshoot that ensued, and the following two sessions, yielded nothing short of magic. The portraits revealed Marilyn as completely unreserved and utterly glamorous. Collectively called The Last Sitting, these intimate photos turned out to be the public’s final glimpse of her life before her untimely death six weeks later.

75th anniversary

For 75 years, generations have dined, played and found inspiration here, untouched by the clamour of life beyond the gates of Bel-Air. In celebration, we invite you to join us on the iconic bridge by Swan Lake to see our remarkable legacy brought to life through a selection of archival photographs, highlighting the creation of Bel-Air itself as the ultimate exclusive community. Exhibition is on throughout August, 2021.

Hotel entrance canopy from 1961

Come and make your own memories at Hotel Bel-Air. Whether you choose to stay at Hotel Bel-Air, dine with us or visit one of our exhibitions, we look forward to welcoming you soon.

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