fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Privacy, Please!

History and Creativity Are Alive at the Exclusive Coral Casino

By Megan Waldrep | Photography courtesy of the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club

In some private homes in Montecito, California, paintings of the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club hang as a tribute to days gone by. The Coral or the Casino, as it’s called by real locals, has been one of the most exclusive private clubs in California for almost a century, and the story behind it is pretty juicy.

Robert Odell, the main shareholder of the Pacific States Savings and Loan Company who acquired the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel in foreclosure in 1935, was a native Nebraskan whose boisterous personality rubbed Santa Barbara country club owners the wrong way. Instead of vying for approval, Odell redesigned the hotel’s former Biltmore Beach Club into the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club as a private place for affluent families and the Hollywood elite to relax. He authorized the building of a larger-than-Olympic-size saltwater pool, a thirty-foot high dive was installed, and, in front of two-story cabanas, steam-heated sand took the place of decking. Today, the high dive and sand are gone, but the glass double doors open to a modern scene where an intimate world of California glamour and intrigue remain.

Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, Gray Malin
Pink Balloons II | Photo by Gray Malin from his 2017 series Gray Malin at the Coral Casino

One treasured decision from the Odell years was the hiring of Hal Boucher as the club’s resident photographer. Boucher was to the Coral Casino what Bill Cunningham was to the New York Times. He captured a revolving door of families and celebrity members, including Bing Crosby and Zsa Zsa Gabor, along with famous visitors like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Benny Goodman, Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, Lana Turner, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Even the Kennedys called Boucher to take photos while vacationing on their honeymoon nearby. In personal photo albums, debutantes pose for Boucher in long white dresses with handsome escorts on the former dance floor under the stars, and his iconic images of swan divers still float around the internet and inspire to this day. Starting in 1948, Boucher came to work every day until sickness befell him in 2019, the last year of his life.

Most of the original staff worked at the Casino for decades, and it’s those personalities who gave the club a small-town feel in its prime. For example, Hedi in the front office was known for running a tight ship, and it was she (not the parents) who decided whether young boys were too grown to enter into the locker rooms with their mothers. Or there was Trudy, “with the big red hair,” who ran The Raft snack bar and would chase you out if you were caught inside without a towel, wetting the floor.

“The Raft is where everybody gathered, and you didn’t have to dress up,” says Daphne Moore, a Coral Casino member since the 1940s. “You could have ice cream and cheeseburgers and just be happy.” The Raft’s menu offered simple fare such as chips, milk shakes, or the Mickey Mouse (a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich). Hot fudge sundaes were served later in the day, but braver souls sipped the Whale Watcher, a potent rum drink ordered at the poolside bar. Moore drifts back to fond experiences she shares with her family even now—not only did she and her brother take swimming lessons in the iconic saltwater pool, but her children and grandchildren have, as well. Her family, including her parents, is just one example of members representing four generations at the Casino.

During World War II, the US Army Air Corps used the Biltmore hotel as a “redistribution station for reassignment of overseas returnees.” Soldiers could stay up to fourteen days for $2.41 per day, which included breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Men in uniform were occupied at the Casino by the passing celebrities, ping-pong games overlooking the beach, and California beauties who frequented the club. Because of this and many other events, the Coral Casino was designated a historic landmark in 2003.

Coral Casino underwent a $65 million renovation by award-winning architect Peter Marino to emphasize the club’s original scale, light, and feel.

After a forty-year ownership by Odell, the club changed hands several times before Ty Warner, founder of Ty Inc. and inventor of Beanie Babies, bought the Biltmore in 2000. With that, the Coral Casino underwent a $65 million renovation by award-winning architect Peter Marino to emphasize the club’s original scale, light, and feel.

A complete restoration means the menus at the Casino have been elevated as well. For example, Tydes restaurant offers panoramic views and seasonally inspired cuisine; Fins is a casual walk-up kiosk for juices, smoothies, and healthy bites; and at the Coral Reef Bar, you’ll watch the sun disappear into the Pacific while you’re bellied up to the 275-gallon saltwater aquarium bar.

Membership to the Coral Casino is coveted and it isn’t easy to get in. The waiting list is long, you must be referred by a member or grandfathered in, and the initiation fee, which was three hundred dollars back in the 1940s, is now in the hundreds of thousands (and that doesn’t include annual dues). But there is a loophole for nonmembers to enjoy—the Coral Casino and Cabana Club is now part of the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, and depending on their room category, guests can enter without an additional fee.

In 2017, the same year as the Coral Casino’s ninetieth anniversary, fine art and aerial photographer Gray Malin shot a 1960s-inspired series evoking an endless summer with vintage bathing beauties in dreamy peach, turquoise, and pink hues. (Photos with titles such as Beach Ball Splash, Après Swim, and Lounging Ladies are possibly already tacked on your Pinterest boards.) He’s not the first notable name to make the Casino a creative hub. In the 1950s, Louis Vuitton presented white-gloved models down a runway atop the pool and another presentation in 2008 showcasing the Louis Vuitton Cruise collection for the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club’s grand reopening.

Throughout changing ownership, modernizations, and renovations, what’s unalterable are the locals coming for a swim, the visitors unwinding in chaise longues with drinks in hand, and the families savoring quality time under the sun. The Coral Casino is a place where the past and the present coexist. And on any warm California day, you’ll hear lifelong members finish conversations with words they’ve uttered many times before: “I’ll see you at the Casino.”

— V —

Visit CoralCasinoClub.com or follow the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara on Instagram @fssantabarbara.

Megan Waldrep is a freelance writer who recently traded life on a thirty-four-foot sailboat in Mexico for a vintage Airstream in Carpinteria, California. She also writes a relationship blog called I Heart under the pen name Elizabeth Rose. What does all this mean? Find out at MeganWaldrep.com.

Read Responsibly

December 2023, Holiday Issue, Christmas, VIE Magazine, Lisa Burwell, Cover, Gift Guide, Holidays
Marisol Gullo, Not Too Shabby, Home, Decor, Interior Design, Santa Rosa Beach, Churchill Oaks
VIE Magazine September 2023 Jay Mercado
VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail