Photo by Anne Fishbein

Mrrrrreowh. That’s the sound of my cat in heat. One hundred and two degrees of it, and rising with the ambient. Normally, Los Angeles bites. Normally, one could avoid the suckage by never leaving one’s building. But this year brings a whole new meaning to the term P.C.: Power Crisis, Partially Cooked, and Pent up and Choking. Yes, it’s summer and I’m stuck in my apartment, a 12-by-12 box that’s packing more fire than the psycho next door. The DVDs aren’t spinning. The air conditioner’s not cooling. The battery on my PowerBook is starting to blink. Must. Get. Out.

Oh, for the love of a backyard pool.

But I’ve got no pool. I’ve got no back yard. Neither does anyone I know.

So I gather the geeks, the freaks, the friends of friends. Ditch the laptops and head out to the pool at the local motor inn. Our mission: to seek out the best that urban swimming has to offer — clean water, cheap rates, a good bathroom, and parking in less than five minutes, at a spot where there’s more down the block than sand. Style? Variable. Company? Flexible. This summer, motels aren’t just for sleeping and sleeping around. Dig out the doughnut floater and see-through fluorescent raft. Let your feet dangle. Splash and snorkel to your heart’s content. Drive on in; the water’s fine, and there’s nary a piranha in sight.

Metro Retro

Don a flowered swim cap, pussycat, and head out to the pool at the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel (8018 Beverly Blvd., 323-651-2441, $75). Lounge like there’s no tomorrow. There’s nothing a tankini and a Creamcicle shake (from the adjacent Swingers Diner) can’t fix. The Beverly Laurel, built in the mid-’60s and still maintained by the original owners — the Adler family — hearkens to the time when jet-set travel was just getting started. Even the poolside potted cacti have curved over the years into the very same parabolic shapes that defined the era. I want to ride the brushed-steel Electro-data elevator all day. I want to lick the creamy turquoise tile. If Jackie O had a hip, swingin’ sister, she surely would have laid her towel down here.

Swimming in Stardust

Whatever the curious alchemy of stardust, smoky mirrors edged with strings of tiny golden lights, and the turquoise glow of a thousand twinkling squares of vintage tile, the pool at the Best Western Hollywood Hills has an air of casual decadence (6141 Franklin Ave., 323-464-5181, $109). Indulge your inner voyeur while pretending to backstroke. A man in a black suit and tie flips channels on the television in a first-floor room. A nymphette in pink maillot — long stringy wet hair, long tanned legs — patters across the hall toward the ice machine. These warm waters are best enjoyed in the glow of a late afternoon that’s fading into dusk. Post-swim, visit the attached Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop (of Swingers fame).

Lost in the Desert of the
Sunset Strip

East of the main drag on Sunset, there’s a series of motels that once upon a time might have seemed cozy and welcoming to the passing motorist. Some of the exotic names suggest respite: the French Cottage, the Hollywood Center, the Travel Inn, the Saharan. Of these four, only the Saharan, with its cheerful, well-kept pool, lives up to its name (7212 Sunset Blvd., 323-874-6700, $55). Bulletproof-glass shields, it seems, are there for a reason.

The Travel Inn’s Jetson-era marquee is about as futuristic as it gets (7370 Sunset Blvd., 323-876-0330, $40). It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and the door to the lobby is locked. A “ring for service” sign points to a doorbell embedded in a star-shaped frame. There’s a fuzzy mountain-lion sculpture behind the desk, a “Snoopy for President” bumper sticker on the plexiglass barrier. There’s a fully decorated Christmas tree beside the reception desk. Never mind that this is April. The pool itself? Think Everglades, think tetanus. Conversation with management goes as follows:

“Are you cleaning out the pool?”

“Not today we’re not.”

“How about for the summer?”

“Oh sure” (chuckle, chuckle), “sure we are.”

Well, there you have it.

No better luck at the Hollywood Center down the street (6720 W. Sunset Blvd., 323-462-6051, $60). Why the peeling brown paint? Why the metal and garden-hose contraption festering in the half-drained back-lot pool? Hidden potential is sometimes best left to the truly, uh, adventurous. Forty bucks, it seems, just doesn’t go as far as it used to.

Corporate Coziness

If nowhere had a style and a pleasant disposition, this would be it. Gray-painted concrete patio, young ficus trees in pots, a few modest lawn chairs, the quiet hum of a water filter. The swim area at the Travelodge is recessed into the back and cordoned off from the street by a concrete fence (7051 Sunset Blvd., 323-462-0905, $70). A pool-cleaning net rests on wall hooks. It’s humble, that’s for sure. And from the obvious signs of diligent pool care to the straightforward pot of coffee brewing in the lobby, it’s a far cry from the more fashionable venues down the boulevard. Call it homely and uninspired, or call it the Zen of affordable corporate accommodation. Every now and then, it’s a relief to let our pretensions go and slide into anonymity.

Bathing Beauty

(Or Was It Booty?)

Oh, the trials of keeping discerning eyes happy! For those who simply must have their atomic-age swank in perfect condition, the Avalon is your scene (9400 W. Olympic Blvd., 310-277-5200, $199). This is far more gorgeous than any motel I’ve ever seen. Being the design industry’s darling (it’s Wallpaper’s favorite L.A. hotel) must be hard work, because this month the rates went up. Observe the swimming pool through panels of floor-to-ceiling glass, a blue kidney-bean-shaped study in midcentury-modern aesthetic. The lobby is awash in deep-orange mood lighting, mood music and mood-enhancing textures. It’s so dark I can barely make out the Lucite lounge chairs and glossy dark-wood coffee tables. It’s so dark that, of course, white votive candles on white marble poolside patio tables make perfect sense. Granted, the staff is uncommonly friendly, but to emerge, half-naked and bikini-clad, onto the Avalon’s pristine pool pad, set fishbowl style within the cool eyeshot of the ultrahip clientele, I don’t care how hot it is: It is just not dark enough.

POOL as Theme park

Lions and Tigers and Prawns,

Oh My!

You, with the chopped salad. Over here. Two words: raised sundeck. Oh wait, three more: prawn club sandwiches. Oh wait, we were discussing the pool. Lovely, really, lovely. At the Safari Inn, we’re not so much safari as safariesque (1911 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, 818-845-8586, $109). If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine that Burbank’s swooshing traffic is actually a rushing waterfall, the murmur of wind rustling through long grass. Though I’m not so sure that Pier One–style faux African masks and animal-print armchairs “define the retro style,” like the brochure says.

Great Underwater Escape Act

Maybe it has more to do with the famous magician’s venue next door, but lounging at the Magic Castle Hotel feels a lot like crashing an exclusive backstage (7025 Franklin Ave., 323-851-0800, $79). The lobby is plush and new-smelling: all crown moldings and creamy-peach carpeting. There’s something in the air (paint fumes? paranoia?) that puts one on the lookout for sleights of hand and misdirection. Hidden exits in the laundry room? Secret compartments in the water filter? Keep an eye out for that sleek little wall-mounted video camera by the reception desk. It’s all part of the Magic’s mystique. Only the management can tell you whether or not Penn and Teller actually sunned on the patio (they’ve got marked spaces in the basement garage). Catch some shade and conjure Houdini. Bask in the cachet of a man who straps on leather bondage gear, jumps into a pool and calls it illusion.

Sunning in Surreal-land

Oh the Valley. Oh the moose- and reindeer-shaped topiary. Swimming at the Sportsmen’s Lodge on Ventura Boulevard is nothing short of an adventure into the strange world of softer living (12825 Ventura Blvd., 818-769-4700, $118 with AAA discount). Ponytailed old white men in Ray-Ban sunglasses and tuxedos mill about. Waterfalls burble. Rosy-cheeked girls in bridesmaid dresses congregate around the Jacuzzi. A giant inflatable Buzz Lightyear floatie bobs in the outdoor Olympic-size pool, while pale-haired boys and girls frolic in the shallow end. The muted sound of honking drifts from the koi pond at the Caribou Restaurant. Is that a goose? Wait, it’s a swan. No, wait, it’s a duck. Float in the company of chiropractors’ conventions and gazebo gardens. All around is sunshine, laughter and pine-wood Colonial. Doggy-paddle off the deep end of the 405. Marco? Polo.

LA Weekly