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Sleeping giant vibrant at 75

RegBevWil remains a cornerstone in L.A. society

Hollywood — What do Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney and ‘N Sync have in common? Each has performed recently at private charity events at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, a landmark hotel that remains tuned in to the pulse of the city, even as it approaches its 75th birthday.

The RegBevWil ballroom hosted the former President playing saxophone with B.B. King at a charity event in April (‘N Sync performed the same night). And, at a separate function, it saw the former Beatle blending voices with Paul Simon to benefit land mine removal, as the hotel continues to play a key role in L.A. philanthropic life.

With Rodeo Drive right outside its doors, the E-shaped Italian Renaissance-style property in the heart of Beverly Hills has never strayed far from the sights of the glitterati, but in the past dozen years it has had to continually evolve in a bid to compete with newcomers like the nearby Peninsula.

Among current updates are additional premium suites now under construction on the topmost floor of the contemporary Beverly Wing, and a restaurant to debut in the spring under chef Patrick Robertson (late of Chicago’s 160 Blue), in the location of the present dining room.

“As a hotel matures, you have to keep modernizing to remain successful. Our owners have invested many millions of dollars over the last five or six years to accomplish that,” says general manager Peter O’Colmain.

Acquired by the Four Seasons chain in 1992, shortly after a $100 million renovation, the hotel spent an additional $35 million in 1998 to remodel and update the technology in 395 rooms and suites. “When guests want something, they want it faster than ever before, and as an older hotel, you had better deliver that,” adds O’Colmain.

Opened in 1928 on the site of a former auto speedway, where Model-T races drew crowds to the then-rural burg of 1,000 souls, the luxury property benefited from the spectacular growth of Beverly Hills to become a favored destination of the rich, famous and titled.

Its storied and swinging history includes a 10-year stay by actor Warren Beatty, who moved into the rooftop suite of the classic Wilshire Wing shortly before “Bonnie and Clyde” opened. Steve McQueen also took up residence, decorating his digs in rustic Western style, and famously got into a fistfight with a heckler in the bar.

In 1990, newcomer Julia Roberts, playing call girl Vivian Ward in “Pretty Woman,” sashayed in off Wilshire Boulevard to romp in the dazzling, antique-filled Presidential Suite with Richard Gere. (In truth, the suite was being remodeled, so it was re-created on a set, but many scenes were shot at the hotel.) Most recently, a scene in the upcoming “Intolerable,” with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was filmed in the ballroom.

This New Year’s Eve, the hotel will mark its 75th birthday with a celebration in the dining room and Lobby Lounge for guests and locals.

Certain things have changed with the times — the lavish ceremonial arrivals for heads of state (Prince Charles was once welcomed by pipe-playing sailors) have been toned down in an age of heightened security concerns; and post-Sept. 11, the number of foreign visitors has plummeted.

Still, the superlative service remains, along with luxury touches such as the unusually located velvet settees that prompted Roberts, in “Pretty Woman,” to squeal: “Color me happy, there’s a seat in the elevator!”

Yes, Vivian, there is. Some things never change.

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