The Riviera Country Club is still one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the United States and a true legend. Between the 1930s and 1960s, it was indeed frequented by the great film personalities of the time. Today, although competition has increased, it remains a golf club frequented by prominent personalities. What is his story?
An uphill start
It is 1922 and oilman Alfonzo Bell owns land right in Santa Monica Canyon, in the middle of nowhere. The plot is located outside the city, just below the Santa Monica Mountains. What on earth can one do with such terrain? Los Angeles Athletic Club vice president Frank A. Garbutt would have half an idea about it: he is looking for a place to build the club’s new headquarters. Bell’s land would be just right for him.
The two begin a long, long negotiation. In order to buy the land, the association must establish a syndicate. Then there are the price negotiations, the financial details, the search for funds. The whole thing takes 3 years: before 1925, not a single brick can be laid on that land.
The funny thing? It is not over yet.
Now that the land is there, only one thing is missing: the design. As chance would have it, architect George Thomas has just finished work on the Bel-Air Country Club, just in time to embark on another venture. He has only two small conditions: to have complete carte blanche on the project; to be able to hire William Bell as a supervisor.
Fifteen designs, 18 months and $243,827 later, Riviera Country Club opens. Architect Alister MacKenzie calls it, “as perfect as the work of a human being can be.”
The assumptions look good.
Hollywood’s crème de la crème can be found at the Riviera
The Riviera is in a fortunate location: not far from the recording studios, in a straight line from Hollywood. The road to get there is not even very busy, which is not bad at all-the traffic in Los Angeles in those years is hellish. Success is not so obvious, however.
The Riviera is not the only golf club in the Hollywood vicinity, quite the contrary. To be picky, the Los Angeles Country Club would be in a much more convenient location for the actors. The problem is a different one: the members of the LA have become stubborn and decided to reject all the entertainers‘ nominations. Perhaps that is why actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks seized the opportunity, enrolling in the far more welcoming Riviera Country Club.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the acting couple is one of Hollywood’s most influential: the two have contacts everywhere. All it takes is nothing and Riviera earns the membership of dozens of other stars, including the celebrated Charlie Chaplin. Icing on the cake, the facility is home to the 1929 Los Angeles Open.
Cinema, golf and cinema about golf
When a place starts swarming with filmmakers and actors, it is normal for a little bit of cinema to seep through the cracks in the tiles. The Riviera Country Club is no exception: over the years, it became the set for countless golf-themed films and more.
Near the fourth hole is a small quarry with a large tree. Olympic champion and actor Johnny Weissmuller is a regular guest at the Rivera; one day, while playing, he can’t help but notice the quarry. Within a short time, cameramen and actors were pouring into the field no longer to play, but to work. Several scenes from the 1932 movie “Tarzan” are filmed right there near the fourth hole.
Will it be because of the beauty of the place? Will it be because of the example set by Weissmuller? We don’t know it, but the cameras remain pointed at the Riviera: romantic comedies, golf movies, dramas–the green sees it all.
Gradually old Hollywood disappears, times change. There are no more Tarzans roaming the greens. On the other hand, politicians and other personality types appear. The Riviera Country Club is changing along with the times.
One time in the film ends, another begins.