Moon Sign

October 1955, Beverly Hilton Hotel — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

John Fraim

My family home was in the six hundred block of Linden Drive in Beverly Hills. It was only three blocks from one of the greatest things I had ever seen constructed, a magnificent place called the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It occupied that strategic corners of Los Angeles where two of the great streets of Los Angeles met, Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard.

Sometimes I would explore the outside boundaries of the great hotel with friends. Often, we would linger on the way home from Rodeo School, a block from where the great hotel was being constructed. Sometimes, a group of us would take a slow route home from school and stand in the park that ran along that river of traffic called Wilshire Boulevard. You couldn’t really get any closer than this as much of the land across the street was already closed off to people.

But we could watch the great cranes lift pieces of steel upward and watch the squares of rooms develop along its outside. Like a great ocean liner almost. I remember relating it this image at the time. I remember looking at the pictures of the great ocean liners at the time and the building of this new hotel reminded me of the building of a great new ship. It seemed to have the elegance and mystery of a great ocean liner to me and this is why I probably found this relationship.

The new place occupied the end third piece of land where the two great streets intersect. The south side of the Los Angeles Country Club forms the back grounding to the pyramid piece of land the hotel is on. The great streets continue to diverge through Wilshire to the north and Santa Monica to the south, in the process defining the boundaries of the South Course (easiest one) at the Los Angeles Country Club.

My parents went to a number of events and dinner and receptions at the new hotel. My mother wearing an evening gown and my father a tuxedo. I was there for a few events, but I can’t remember much about them.

What I do remember was this magic restaurant of the very tip of where the two great streets came together, on the tip part of the grand new Beverly Hilton Hotel, was that mysterious, exotic place called Trader Vics. My parents took me there a number of times. We often met out of town relatives at the restaurant. It was one of my favorite places.

Walking into Trader Vics was similar to walking into one of the new rides at the just-opened Disneyland thirty miles away. I had been to Disneyland not too long after it opened, and I always considered Trader Vics a piece of Disneyland in my backyard.

Trader Vics in the Beverly Hilton

But the thing I remember most from this growing up period of mine was something related to the great hotel. During many nights of those first years, I could look out my bedroom window at night and see the great Beverly Hilton sign of the new hotel. The great sign rested over the treetops of the neighborhood. It seemed as if the night world had been relabeled with this great sign.

On certain nights, the moon would position itself over the great lighted Hilton Hotel sign like it was simply sitting on top of the big sign in the sky above the treetops of Beverly Hills. It would only happen for a few minutes each so often. I learned phases of the moon at an early age and marked on my calendar the day and time of night the two symbols would come together.

Some might have seen the two symbols as battling each other. This point of view has some validity to it. It’s not hard to see the moon as the symbol of nature and the Hilton hotel sign a symbol (sign) of culture. A symbol of a place that was going to be a central place in the history of Hollywood in the next half century.

But it never seemed to me as if the two were opposition symbols locked in some perpetual battle. It seemed that the two symbols were connected and melded together somehow, maybe by the thick light of the full moon flowing down over the big red Hilton sign. It seemed to cast a strange blue light over the red sign. Not the artificial light of cell phones today. But pure light from the full moon falling over the great red neon sign on top of the hotel.

On those special nights, when the full moon sat down on top of the Hilton sign, I felt sure the Hilton sign was connected to the moon. Sure, that is, in that funny way most kids have of making strange, non-linear connections between things in their early life.

The Beverly Hilton Sign

I think of this image in my early life tonight as I sit outside the Beverly Hilton tonight in April of 2019, so many years since I grew up just a few blocks away. We were down in LA to visit relatives and friends and staying at the Beverly Hilton made all the sense in the world. It was close to Century City and all the relatives.

The hotel went through many hands since we moved from LA to Ohio in the late 50s. I came back to LA for college and law school but left for the Bay Area. I heard it hosted many famous movie stars for years as well as famous events like the Golden Globes Awards. Famous stars like Marilyn Monroe frequented the large pool. And Angelina Jolie jumped in the pool after a dare that she would not win a Golden Globe award.

And so on.

It started to fall into neglect and disrepair when competition moved into the Beverly Hills market. Merv Griffin purchased the hotel and upgraded the grand old lady one time. Then, one of the co-founders of Packard Bell purchased the hotel and put an additional $80 million into the hotel.

We arrive maybe six years after the last large renovation. The hotel is wonderful in the way I hoped it would be, updated with modern technology for the LA market. More rooms for business people and more business services. But still the touches of the old years with photos of the great stars who have stayed there up and down the hallways and public areas of the hotel. Not just any photo of the star but a beautiful classic black and white photo.

There is the photo of President John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson with Conrad Hilton breaking ground for the new hotel. There is Marilyn coming out of the pool. There is Grace Kelly. There is a picture of Elizabeth Taylor and her then husband Nicky Hilton. There is Jack Lemon and his wife. There is Richard Burton.

Looking Out Over Beverly Hills From the 6th Floor of the Beverly Hilton

Our room is on the six floor of the hotel facing out over my old neighborhood. Somewhere in those trees out there was Linden Drive and our old home. It seemed amazing to be standing in this room and looking out at my old home. It was almost as if something in my life had come full circle. I think I looked for myself out the hotel window when the evening after we checked in.

I’ve heard that the new Waldorf Astoria hotel next door is something to see. Especially the top of it for drinks. And, just a half mile east on Wilshire is a string of famous Beverly Hills hotels. Besides this, the large Century Plaza hotel is no more than a mile away.

The old lady has competition today. But not in my mind as I sit out in the little outside park area. It is a quiet time at the hotel, and I am the only one out here tonight. It’s a landscaped patio maybe 50 yards long with tall lighted palm trees, a wall waterfall and a number of exotic plants. Right behind the adobe type wall of the patio area is Wilshire Boulevard. Even at nine on a Monday night, it still makes a constant noise like the rushing waters of a river.

Tax-day, April 15th. Around nine o’clock on a pleasant 55-degree night in Los Angeles. I sit in a comfortable lawn chair next to an outdoor sofa and a type of coffee table.

I look up at the hotel sign. There it is again. The sign I remember from all those years ago. But now, I am so much closer to it, right below it.

And the moon?

I scan the sky for it.

I see it off to the left. Hovering somewhat above West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip. It is a puny little thing, maybe a half moon. Nothing near a full moon. It is buried in the overcast of the cool LA evening.

Beverly Hilton Elevator Bank / Fish Aquarium in Background

But there seems something much more important at work here. More than the sign or the moon or even the Beverly Hilton. Perhaps more than anything else, it seems to be the emotions tied into a return to the certain place one grows up in as a kid. A return to it after many years and traveling so far away from it.

Of course, the things have changed since all those years ago. New people occupy the land of one’s youth. New buildings rise from the crumbled buildings on one’s youth. But the land called LA is the same as it has always been for me. The land I grew up in. There is only one land like this, only a singular land of one’s youth.

My first home. Peopled now by inhabitants of new generations. My parent’s tuxedo and evening dress generation a thing of the past in the modern casual world.

The worlds other generations. Making the great city their city. As all generations do.

But no one can make this particular place in the world theirs. Unless they are raised in the place. One can only aspire to “own” a place in the world by either being born in the place or living there for a long time.

Part of the Lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hilton

Everyone has only one home and they always own the place of their home, no matter who or what occupies their home later. Now the tower of the Waldorf Astoria hotel rises above the eight story Beverly Hilton. But this whole area is home to me.

Our family home on Linden Drive close to the Beverly Hilton Hotel at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica. The fact I grew up near the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica, two of the greatest streets of Los Angeles, seems somehow related to the intersection of the moon and the Beverly Hilton sign. Intersections of signs. Perhaps my life has been different from others because I always tried to meld both signs into one like a modern alchemist perhaps.

Maybe there is more to write about this hotel in my life. I don’t know right now. It is simply nice to sit out on this chair in the little park area of the Beverly Hilton tonight and remember a time in my life filled with this particular place in the world.

2 thoughts on “Moon Sign

  1. Thank you for sharing your memories of my favorite hotel, The Grande Beverly Hilton Hotel, John. Your memories and recollections as well as your current impressions served to rekindle my own fond memories and experiences of the hotel and fantastic Trader Vic’s.

    My memories center around working as an interior designer for the hotel during the glorious days when Merv Griffin, or M.G. as everyone there called him, was at the helm. How special those times were! Lunching around the famous pool as we discussed upcoming changes and improvements, relaxing in the bar and lounge area after-hours to talk about up-coming events and decor and the excitement of planning and proposing Christmas themes and decorations for the Lobbies, Restaurants and all the Ballrooms were several of the fun and dynamic topics that were always on the agenda.

    Of utmost importance was always making sure that M.G. had fresh flower arrangements in his office as well as in the outer hall areas around his office on a daily basis. He and I would often do a “walk-through” around the hotel areas just to make sure everything was “up-to-par.”

    Memories of those days spent at The Beverly Hilton Hotel were some of the fondest and enjoyable of my interior design career and I will always hold them close to my heart an treasure them.

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