Re-Launching The Biltmore

“It is not just a restoration of what was clearly a grand old hotel,” intoned Four Seasons CEO and founder Isadore “Issy” Sharp (he began the company with a hotel in Toronto; the chain now comprises 74 luxury hotels) during a surprise appearance at a special re-launch party at the Biltmore on Saturday, January 28. The event featured a sumptuous food & wine buffet table that stretched nearly the entire length of the nearby bar area. Looking around him and out over a small crowd of invitees, Mr. Sharp continued, “This would be the transformation, to a new level of quality and style.”

Mr. Sharp credited “one man that made it all happen: Ty Warner” for the transformation. “It was [Warner’s] vision and commitment to excellence that have created this extraordinary resort,” Sharp said, noting that Warner had successfully retained “the quality and original charm and character of the 1920s, while combining that with the latest state-of-the-art of conveniences of the twenty-first century.”

Among those attending this somewhat intimate affair, were Montecito bigwigs like Andy and Dolly Granatelli, Dennis and Joanie Franz, John Cleese and Alyce Faye, Christopher Lloyd and Lisa Loiacono, artist Rise Ochsner, songwriter Tom Snow and his wife, Mary Belle Snow, Lee Luria, Gary and Patti Teel, and, well, many more of Montecito’s finest.

Ty Warner was not on hand to receive the accolade, but Four Seasons General Manager Karen Earp introduced “Ty’s right-hand man,” Greg Rice, who was. Mr. Rice began his remarks by reading a review of the Biltmore that, he said, had appeared in an L.A. paper.

“This hotel is a duplicate of a magnificent old-time hacienda,” Greg read. “All the expansive space, sleepy inviting corridors, the beauty of a Spanish palace, the comfort of a century of warmth and light, and having every want anticipated before you really know what you want.”

Greg confessed that while “an L.A. paper” had indeed printed that glowing assessment, it was the long-gone Los Angeles Examiner, and that the review had appeared 80 years ago, when the Biltmore first opened.

Greg then examined what he saw as both the heart and the soul of the hotel.

“The soul of the Biltmore,” he observed, “is evident the moment you step foot inside. Nowhere do you have the distinctive blend of beauty, history, architecture, natural setting, and unparalleled luxury. In the course of the last couple of years,” Greg continued, “Ty Warner invested over two hundred fifty million dollars, not to change the image of the hotel, but to reveal more of what the Biltmore is.”

Mr. Rice suggested that when guests return to the Biltmore for the first time since the renovation, they’ll regard the hotel not as changed, but as more beautiful, “right down to the very smallest detail… Did I mention right down to the very smallest detail?” he quipped. It was a reference to Ty Warner’s reputation as someone who indeed pays very close attention to everything, including “the very smallest” of details.

As for the heart of the hotel, Greg said that as “someone who personally has spent a lot of time on the hotel over the last six years, I can testify that the heart of the Biltmore is embodied in the tireless dedication of the Four Seasons staff.”

Greg called the hotel “a mini utopia” that offered its guests “the ability to step away from the mundane, the chaotic, and the ordinary, if only for a little while,” and invited guests to step forward into the lounge after a red ribbon, signifying the end of the $240-million restoration, was cut.

At 10 pm, the hotel, which had apparently been purchased for the entire evening by Santa Barbara Film Festival (at a cost, we are told, of some $280,000!), was transformed once more, this time into an L.A. disco for the after-party celebration of Will Smith’s Modern Master Award at the Arlington, delivered by Tom Cruise. Neither actor showed up, but burly guards protected the much-despised “VIP” room set aside for the Hollywood elite and other favored guests in the Del Mar room anyway. The grand ballroom was decorated with curtained “boxes,” in which dancers from State Street Ballet gyrated to mind-numbingly loud disco music. By 11 pm, the line of cars exiting 101 had piled up Spring Street and snaked along Channel Drive to the red-carpeted hotel entry.

The dancing girls’ skimpy outfits, while pleasing to the eye, proved a little too much – or a little too little – for the Biltmore, and the girls were hastily called away to add some clothing, which was made from the box-curtain material on the spot. They went back to dancing and the party continued on well beyond two o’clock in the morning, a fitting, though perhaps raucous, tribute to the transformation of a grand old lady determined to continue having a good old time.

Tip-toeing Through The Two Lips

Not everyone invited to the Biltmore’s re-launch party could make it. Among those required to be elsewhere were James and Rose Marie Towle, who felt obliged to attend the Commodore’s Ball at the Yacht Club, during which the club’s Command Flag ceremoniously passes from one “Commodore” to another. The event was scheduled, unfortunately, at the same time on the same night (Saturday, January 28) as the Biltmore’s re-launch party.

“While you were hob-knobbing with the nearly rich and sometimes famous – and usually infamous – not all of us went. Instead,” Towle scoffed, “we chose the Yacht Club for the Commodore’s Ball.” Pairs of large, wearable, bright-red lips were passed out among the party goers in deference to outgoing Commodore John Demourkas, who owns, according to Towle, “a very special world-class racing yacht,” identified by a set of huge (and very special) red lips on the spinnaker.

Montecito Tidbits

By the time you read this, Kendall Conrad – daughter of bestselling author Barnaby Conrad and Mary Conrad – will probably already have held her book signing at Tecolote for her new cook book, “Eat Well Feel Well” (Thursday, February 1, from 5 pm to 7 pm). However, Tecolote manager Mary Sheldon says the bookshop is set to host a book signing for Gail Jansen and the new book, “Austin Val Verde: A Montecito Masterpiece,” along with photographer Aran Berge. That is scheduled for Saturday, February 17, from 3 pm to 4pm.

And, speaking of Montecito masterpieces, Casa del Herrero Foundation is hosting Interior Design Hall of Famer Bunny Williams as its guest speaker for a Valentine’s Day lecture to be given at Montecito Country Club on Wednesday, February 14. Ms Williams’s theme is “Speaking from the Heart, An Affair with a House,” documenting the evolution of a country house in Falls Village, Connecticut. The event will run from 10 am to 12:30 pm and includes lunch. Cost is $100 per person ($125 for non-members). Space is limited, but you are welcome to call 565-5653 to make a reservation or inquiry.