Hollywood Glamour at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida

by Tony Phillips
Saturday Jun 16, 2012

According to Madonna, "Everybody comes to Hollywood," but in over a decade of winter snow-birding, I never made the ten-mile trek south from Fort Lauderdale to Hollywood, Florida.

Luckily, a stay at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa fixed all that - and now Hollywood is no longer just that discombobulating hyphenate on the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport sign.

International is probably a good place to begin. the Diplomat is the oldest "new" hotel on that strip of Intracoastal route A1A dotted with megalith hotels. Indeed, the architectural firm of Nichols, Brosch, Sandoval & Associates left a gaping hole in the center of their curved, 39-story double tower that looks like a nice place to park a craft from "Bladerunner,"
but the history of the hotel dates back to the 1950s.

Before it was imploded by 500 pounds of dynamite in the spring of 1998, the Diplomat was a home-away-from-home for the Rat Pack. Supermarket magnate Samuel Friedland put up a 150-room hotel called The Envoy in 1953. The following year he added 370 rooms and renamed it The Diplomat, turning it over to his son and daughter-in-law to manage.

From Rat Pack To Bladerunner

During its 70s heyday, the hotel’s CafĂ© Crystal and Tack Room Lounge played host to Frank, Sammy, Liza and Shirley. MacLaine was an old hand, having spent her teenage years hawking refrigerator magnets up and down Miami Beach, but from The Diplomat stage, she tallied a film career comprised of 14 hookers, a geisha and a nun, quipping, "It was easier playing hookers, at least I could lay down."

Not one to lay down himself, Sinatra even popped out of retirement to perform on New Year’s Eve in 1974, pulling in a cool $200,000 for an hour’s work. But as Sinatra faded from prominence, so did The Diplomat. In 1983, the hotel was plagued by a series of fires and shuttered for its crucial winter season.

In 1984, the Diplomat was back, welcoming President Ronald Reagan as well as a New Year’s Eve ushered in by Bob Hope, but the hotel continued to slide into decline and in 1987 was unloaded to a local consortium of labor unions who bailed it out to the tune of $44,000,000.

But things still headed south until the hotel was shuttered and dynamited in 1998 before another name change--the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa--and a new management company--Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide--ushered this brand new 998-room beachfront resort into the 21st century.

With a little digging, tiny, framed snatches of the Diplomat’s storied history can be found scattered throughout the new, high-tech, Art Deco hotel. Upon entering the soaring, glassed-in atrium, several bellhops do a Marx Brothers’ routine, practically diving over one another to open the door. The first thing that pops into my mind is how many bellhops does it take to open a door at The Diplomat?

But good luck getting away with the term "bellhop." The hotel’s over one thousand employees are known as Ambassadors and each uniform tag lists not only a name, but a passion. As I’m standing in the lobby, starring down a double row of petrified palms framing a water element that stretches the width of the lobby and pulls one toward the Atlantic Ocean like an undertow, I close my eyes and breath deep as the scent of White Tea fills my lungs.

Ambassador Jeffrey Mikus ("My Passion: English Bulldogs"), fresh from a spin class, breaks me out of my reverie, booming, "I’m in charge of fun." Indeed, a business card later reveals him to be the Diplomat’s "Director of Fun," and that’s Jeffrey all over, fun with a capital ’F’, but he begins to win me over when he leans in to whisper that the lobby orchids are rotated daily as we wait for the Fantasy Island collection of journalists to assemble for a tour which he will guide.

Jeffrey shuffles us out onto the hotel’s back deck, a glorious stack-up of multiple mineral pools free of chlorine and hidden hot tubs. On the upper deck, an infinity pool runs straight out from the hotel, its narrow vanishing edge dropping off into the Atlantic, while beneath it, another long pool runs perpendicular. The two are connected by an oculus in the center of the top pool that’s skirted by double waterfalls on the lower pool. Before shoving off, Jeffrey motions to the glass bottom and says, "Some of the things that children do we will not talk about."

Soon, we’re up to our eyeballs in kids as Jeffrey, or "Mr. Jeff" as he’s known to the hotel’s latchkey populace, makes a beeline for the "Kids Club." I can’t quite figure Jeffrey out. To my mind, the words resort and children are antonyms, yet he seems to vacillate between Mary Poppins and Hedda Nussbaum. On the one hand, he breathlessly intones how "the children" up his hip factor, relaying a recent exchange: "Mr. Jeff, we don’t high five anymore. We fist bump," but on the other hand he’s prone to bitchy pronouncements like, "No, no! There will be no sippy cups here."

As Jeffrey details a 10,000-egg Easter hunt, I slip out of the glitter and glue strewn Kids Club and take in the strip of beach that’s protected for the upcoming sea turtle season. I’m ready for the tour to proceed. If you’re bringing children to a five star resort, frankly, that’s your problem. Soon, Jeffery picks up the pace and brings us into the bowels of The Diplomat for a scene that’s straight out of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."


(Travel feature continues on next pages...)


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