Hugh Hefner passed away last week, and while he’ll be remembered for many things (both famously and infamously), in my eyes, he’ll always be remembered for his role in the pool and spa industry.
In 1973, Hefner built the Playboy mansion pool and, perhaps more importantly, the legendary grotto. The grotto was built with natural stones weighing as much as 3 tons, and held together with over 100 yards of concrete. At the time, the grotto was a unique concept, one that spurred nationwide interest — for many, the idea of a backyard lagoon with a grotto was in a way symbolic of success and the American Dream.
I was lucky enough to have Hef as a client of mine in 2002 when my company, RicoRock, worked on a major remodel for Hef’s second pool/grotto, located on an estate across the street from the mansion.
Unlike the original grotto, Hef opted for artificial rock for the remodel — it’s as attractive as natural stone, eliminates large gaps between rocks and keeps costs down.
To do this, we used cast concrete panels and backfilled on-site with concrete. The existing concrete decks were broken up and stacked to create elevated rock pads for sunbathing; the raised rock formations soften the 8-foot height of the waterfall. The structure is actually freestanding and entirely out of grade, but dense landscaping makes it look natural. We used a pebble finish on the pool and upgraded the mechanical system with Pentair equipment.
We really enjoyed working on the project. The best part was a free breakfast and lunch at the outdoor kitchen immediately behind the mansion, where we joined the staff of over 40 workers who take care of the grounds, zoo, aviary, security and special events. We worked largely with Hef’s general manager, who had been working for him for 30 years and described the publishing mogul as a “demanding, but generous person.”
I’d certainly agree with the latter. I was allowed to bring in guests for private tours of the 5-acre grounds on several occasions. Highlights of the tour were the grotto, underground gym, game rooms, monkey cage and aviary.
While Hugh Hefner’s legacy is quite “colorful,” he certainly made waves in many industries, including ours.