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Battle of the Hotels : The Beverly Hills vs. the Bel-Air: A Duel in the Sun With Kid Gloves On

May 03, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

Marvin Davis, admittedly, is having the time of his life.

It's not just because he can hold court at Table No. 503 in the Polo Lounge at breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. Or stand in the lobby and greet friends with a warm "Good morning" and a playful slap on the back.

It's because he can finally say that the famed pink pleasure palace on Sunset Boulevard is his. Totally his. "I've found it's a great pride and joy to own something like this," exults the tycoon about his newest toy, the Beverly Hills Hotel, which he bought six months ago for $135 million.

One mile to the west, Caroline Hunt Schoellkopf, to a lesser but still significant degree, also has been putting her personal stamp on the equally prestigious Hotel Bel-Air, which she purchased in 1982. "I've said before that I consider myself a figurehead," the Dallas heiress maintains. "If I serve any purpose at all, it is to be a personality for the hotel, not only for the public but for the employees."

Both big-league multimillionaires, both oil barons, both out-of-towners, both desperately shy of personal publicity, Davis and Schoellkopf have a lot in common, even if they have only met once. They also are in the enviable position of owning two competing Los Angeles landmarks.

As a result, they have acquired instant status in this status-conscious town on a par with owning a major movie studio, heading a television network or producing an Oscar-winning film.

But owning a hotel is a lot less worrisome--and a lot more fun.

"Money buys you freedom. And it buys you the ability to play where you want to play," explains a powerful and well-known agent/lawyer who counts both Davis and Schoellkopf among his friends. "Some people play in casinos, or on race tracks, or atop a mountain in Nepal. But if I were Marvin Davis or Caroline Schoellkopf at the moment, I'd do exactly what they did. I'd buy a hotel and turn it into my playground."

Right now couldn't be a better time to own either property.

In April, the 92-room Hotel Bel-Air, which completed its $12-million refurbishment and expansion in 1984, was chosen one of the 10 "Great Hotels in the World" by Travel & Leisure magazine.

This month, the 268-room Beverly Hills Hotel is celebrating its 75th anniversary in the midst of a $40-million freshening and modernization.

While there has not been a formal declaration of war between them, the Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills are furiously competing for the same entertainment and corporate moguls and their money. Further complicating the financial situation is the opening of the Four Seasons and new ownership at the Beverly Wilshire by the Regent Hotel International. Nevertheless, based on tradition and trendiness as well as personalities, the Pink Ladies are in a class by themselves.

Their management styles are as different as the ambiance of their hotels.

Marvin Davis had his checkbook out when feuding sisters Seema Boesky, wife of convicted Wall Street insider trader Ivan Boesky, and Muriel Slatkin put the Beverly Hills Hotel up for auction last winter. "I had an inkling when there was a rift between the sisters that it would probably be for sale someday," he said in a rare interview. "So I mentioned to both sides that when it happened, I'd like to be considered."

In fact, people both inside and outside the hotel were rooting for Davis. "Everybody was totally relieved when he bought it instead of a giant chain of hotels that wouldn't have paid any attention to any of the hotel's traditions," Beverly Hills Hotel regular Christopher Plummer said.

The reason he wanted it so badly, Davis said, is that the Beverly Hills "has been part of my life for years." He and his wife, Barbara, stayed there on their honeymoon. He and his family lived in Bungalow No. 1 for 4 1/2 years until they bought their Beverly Hills homestead from Kenny Rogers in 1984. "And my father died at the hotel not too long ago," Davis added. It also meant that he could continue to maintain a high profile in town after selling out his 50% stake in 20th Century Fox Film Corp. to Rupert Murdoch in 1985 for $325 million.

Davis, already the owner of The Lodge at Pebble Beach, thinks his newest property is "a one-of-a-kind. It's a meeting place for people. It's a mecca for every business I've ever been in."

And, most of all, he said, "It's a hotel that's just full of action."

Davis eagerly soaks up every bit of it on a daily basis, especially when it's from the vantage point of his Polo Lounge table directly opposite the door. (Some people say the reason the former owners of the Beverly Hills Hotel started fighting is that Muriel Slatkin wanted to call that spot hers.) In addition, Davis noted, "I've always liked the food," volunteering that his favorite menu items are the fat pork sausages that he personally had brought in from Pebble Beach at breakfast and the chicken piccata sandwich, "which is out of this world at lunch."

Enjoys Greeting People

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