Bel-Air is a district of LA just northwest of UCLA. It is an elite residential subdivision of the same class as Beverly Hills, if not even more exclusive. The district is full of grand mansions and modest ranches. Many of the homes up the mountain have incredible views of the LA basin, of Catalina Island, and of the Bel-Air country club. The homes in this area are worth upwards of $20 million, monitored by security guards driving around to catch loiterers and interlopers.
Nothing really happens in Bel-Air; it is quiet and uneventful except when celebrity weddings are held in the exclusive homes. And other than the glamorous estates and the famous Hotel Bel-Air, the district does not offer any tourist attractions.
The Hotel Bel-Air is a fortress of genteel luxury, so discretely hidden away from the city that it is very difficult to find. First-time guests often miss it as they drive by. The brass sign marking the entrance of the hotel at 701 Stone Canyon Road is quite small.
Hotel Bel-Air consists of a series of low-rise Mission-style buildings colored in pink. The 5-star boutique lodge looks as though it belongs to the wild, wooded hillside where it is set. Certainly, it blends quite well with the multi-million dollar estates that surround it. Trees and knolls, of course, provide cover, but neighbors don’t let that get in their way of making frequent visits. They drop in for the more than occasional after-dinner drink. They treat the hotel as their own personal bar. When the hotel was first refurbished, many of the bar stools were bought up by the neighboring residents who considered it “theirs”.
The hotel was built in 1922 by oil and real estate millionaire Alfonzo E. Bell. He used it as the sales office for the subdivision north of Sunset Boulevard that he developed. Bell worked to transform Bel-Air into the most beautiful and sought-after neighborhood in Los Angeles’ West aside. Today, the community is synonymous with privacy and luxury.
In the early 1940s, the sales office was converted into hotel accommodations. It became an immediate hit among the rich and famous because of its private country-like setting and isolation from the city. It also helped that it was just minutes away from the restaurants, boutiques, and entertainment of Beverly Hills.
The clientele of Hotel Bel-Air is a list of who’s who. Back in the day, the Fords, Rockefellers, and Kennedys were among the frequent guests. Howard Hughes used to conclude business deals at a table in the corner of the bar. Many other stars lived at the hotel, including “A” names such as Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marion Davies, Sophia Loren, and Greta Garbo. Today, celebrities still live and hang out in this exclusive abode. It’s not unusual to get a lunch seat next to a former president or catch the eyes of a Hollywood luminary at the evening bar. But don’t count on the hotel to fill you in on who’s been hanging around. The hotel employees are extremely discreet and won’t be caught dead even acknowledging their presence.
Part of Hotel Bel-Air’s charm is its perfectly groomed and landscapecd grounds. Gardeners meticulously maintain the lawns, flowers, and plants, leaving the impression that they have been nurtured by nature itself. The hotel’s small lake is fed by a natural waterfall and is peacefully waded by white swans. The stream of water lies next to a flourishing redwood grove.
Guest accommodations are spread between several buildings, creating a private-home atmosphere. Each unit has a wood-burning fireplace, skylights, window seats that peer through bay windows, and French doors that open up to walled patios.
The Bel-Air is one-of-a-kind. It does not host any resort activities or lively nightlife parties, but serves as one of the few remaining refuges upholding the refined elegance of old Los Angeles.
Baker, Christopher, Judy Wade, and Morten Strange. California. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671879065.
“Bel Air, Los Angeles, California.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bel-Air%2C_Los_Angeles%2C_California>
 Bel Air
 Baker, 128