A striking painting of Elizabeth Taylor greets guests in the stairwell. // © 2017 Lina Zeldovich
Feature image (above): A bridge connects Taylor and Burton’s former homes. // © 2017 Casa Kimberly
As I walked up the marble steps to the second floor of Puerto Vallarta's
nine-suite Casa Kimberly boutique hotel, I found myself staring into the
eyes of Elizabeth Taylor. She looked back at me from a huge portrait on the
wall. An elaborate chandelier artfully hung in front of the painting looked
like a diadem on the actress's head, giving her the look of Cleopatra - the
Egyptian princess she once played on the silver screen. As I paused on the
stairs to take a picture, Casa Kimberly's current owner, Janice Chatterton,
an American expatriate originally from San Francisco, was pleased with the
"I knew this arrangement would work," she said, smiling. "People stop and
Located in downtown Puerto Vallarta, Casa Kimberly is one of the city's
most beloved historical landmarks; in the 1960s, it hid iconic Hollywood
couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton from the unrelenting paparazzi.
The two stars came here to film the now-famous classic film "The Night of
the Iguana" and enjoyed a passionate affair while still married to their
spouses. Burton bought the casa for Taylor's 32nd birthday, then bought
himself a house across the street. To avoid being in the public eye when
visiting each other, the celebrities connected their homes by a white
bridge, inspired by Venice, Italy's Bridge of Sighs, and the property
became a symbol of their relationship.
At a table in the hotel's eatery, The Iguana Restaurant & Tequila Bar,
Chatterton explained how she came to own this historic property.
"It was a bunch of coincidences," she chuckled.
In the 1980s, Chatterton wanted to rent a villa for the Christmas season in
Puerto Vallarta, but everything was booked. Serendipitously, her friend
spoke to Taylor's mother at a local bar.
"I bet you my daughter would rent you her place," the woman had said - and
Chatterton ended up staying at Casa Kimberly.
"It was a really nice experience," she said. "It was spacious, it had a
beautiful pool and nice views. I knew I would want a vacation house in
Puerto Vallarta one day."
Twenty years later, she was able to renovate the property. She built a
stylish courtyard in an empty lot, renovated the rooms and added new ones,
carefully preserving Casa Kimberly's history and spirit.
Indeed, a walk through the hotel transports you back in time. Photos of the
couple and the characters they played in movies remind guests of a bygone
era, while the artsy Mexican decor blends nicely with contemporary
amenities such as oversize bathtubs and spacious walk-in showers.
Each of the beautifully decorated rooms boasts its own style, but whenever
she could, Chatterton kept original artifacts. The Elizabeth Taylor suite
still features the actress' heart-shaped Jacuzzi, and Burton's quarters
have the original azure pool. You can easily picture the couple
entertaining their guests around it. Walking over the connecting bridge, I
looked down at the cobblestone street, imagining the waiting paparazzi.
Revived and restored, Casa Kimberly has been welcoming visitors for more
than a year, preserving the memory of a great love story that became part
of Puerto Vallarta's history.
"Locals and visitors alike fill our dining room and guestrooms, and each
one is curious about the building's history and Taylor's life here," said
Juanita Gutierrez, concierge for Casa Kimberly. "We are happy to be able to
share the space and the story with them."