Immortal Glamour

Posted online: April 2018

The Four Seasons Resort Biltmore Santa Barbara celebrates 90 years of style, luxury, and fortuitous escapades

By Katherine Stewart

In the early days, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bing Crosby, and Lana Turner could be seen lounging by the pool at the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore Santa Barbara. That was in the roaring ’ 20s and dapper ’30s, around the time the Odell family added the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club to its table of properties, which included the Clift Hotel in San Francisco.

In the 1950s, the resort hosted the most glamorous parties of the season, including a fashion show by Louis Vuitton, where ladies in white gloves and Jacques Fath evening gowns consorted with the kinds of people who wanted to keep their names out of the papers.

“There was a rumor that Jack Lemon was having an affair in Santa Barbara,” recalls Beverly Jackson, the longtime guardian and chronicler of Santa Barbara society. “He was a big star at the time. So one day at the hotel I ran into him and said, ‘I have to ask you, Jack, is this rumor true?’ He said, “It is true, I am having a love affair. I love my Rolls Royce more than anything in the world! And the only person I allow to touch it is a mechanic in Santa Barbara. So that’s why I’m here once a month!’”

Jackson smiles at the memory. “Of course,” she adds, “Red Skelton was having an affair in Santa Barbara. I ran into them at the Biltmore, too.”

The resort’s famed turret. Santa Barbara Vintage Photography

But there were rules, after all, and they were not to be flouted. Men with hair longer than an inch above the collar were refused entry in the restaurant.

“One day Grace Dreyfus, who was the wife of Louis Dreyfus, the Ambassador to Afghanistan, happened to have the heir apparent to the throne of Afghanistan with her,” says Jackson. “He was the son of the king, and she wanted to take him into lunch. And he wasn’t allowed in because his hair fell a half inch afoul of the rule.”

The resort continued to play a vital role in the ceremonial life of the city. The parties here have always produced stories retold long after the guests go home.

“The night before Christmas, they organized a Posadas, where you do a procession and knock on the doors and ask for room at the inn,” Jackson says. “Back then, the dining room kind of looked like Maxim’s in Paris in the old days: beaux arts decor with red velvet banquettes. The dinner guests were given candles, and a man who worked at the hotel led the procession. We ended in the lobby, where we were entertained by professional flamenco dancers, and there was a giant piñata with long sticks for the kids. It was great fun, and they did it every year.”

The big names have all stayed here, but the hotel will never tell you who they are. Here, at least, they take security clearances seriously. Still, we know that Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges have graced the property’s 22 acres of landscaped pathways. And when Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen stayed at the resort in anticipation of a joint appearance at the Arlington Theater, they crashed a wedding party, posing for poolside photos with the bride and groomsmen.

The property’s grand ballrooms, lido decks, and moonlight-filled courtyards have long served as settings for Santa Barbara’s most important social events and celebrations. Merryl Brown, creative director of the Montecito-based Merryl Brown Events, chose the resort as the site for the Pacific Pride Foundation’s Royal Ball and United Way Red Feather Ball. “It is my absolute favorite venue for event design and production in Santa Barbara,” she says. “It is consistently excellent. Their service and catering are top-notch. It is a beautiful representation of all that our city has to offer.”

Guests meandering through 22 acres of lush “jungle gardens.” Santa Barbara Vintage Photography

The Biltmore has always taken its position in the community seriously. After the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris slide, it played a key role in the recovery efforts, providing a staging area for fire fighters and other first responders. More than 45 employees volunteered to serve as members of a task force within the Four Seasons company, participating in cleanup efforts and fund-raising and working with the United Way of Santa Barbara and The American Red Cross Central California.

The property, which reopens this summer, is commemorating its 90th anniversary with some unique partnerships, including OPI Nail Polish, which is creating resort-themed collection of colors; Sunstone Vineyards & Winery, which is producing two varietals blended by the resort team; and the award-winning photographer Gray Malin, who created a series of photographs at the Coral Casino with a 1960s resort vibe. A portion of the proceeds is donated to local Thomas Fire survivors.

“We are so proud and excited to celebrate our 90th year,” says general manager Karen Earp. “We are keeping luxury at the forefront, sharing anecdotes from our past, and welcoming the future with new and exciting endeavors.”

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