Going back in time to the tumultuous love affair of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1960’s.
Casa Kimberly built above the historic Old Town of Puerto Vallarta was the love nest of Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton after they had fallen in love and carried on a torrid love affair in the privacy of this house. From the terrace of Elizabeth’s suite, the panoramic view overlooks the Bay of Banderas with its crystalline waters, changing kaleidoscopically to different shades of aquamarine depending on the time of day, the tides and the cloud covering.
For her 32nd birthday, Richard Burton gifted Casa Kimberly to his Love, a gift that rivaled the many gifts he bestowed on Elizabeth during the times they were together, that included two marriages and two divorces. The movie set of Cleopatra was where the love affair began, but Casa Kimberly was where it got wings and it is here that the legend of the volatile romance lives on.
Making The Night of The Iguana Movie
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, both at the pinnacle of their careers, had fallen in “lust” during the filming of Cleopatra, where they were cast as the leads in 1962.
The sensational relationship provided heaps of notoriety that fueled the publicity machine during its filming and for many years to come. They originally met a few years earlier, at which time Taylor described Burton as “boorish and boring,” but the second meeting on the set of Cleopatra was “combustible,” even though Burton was allegedly drunk when he arrived on set to meet his co-star. They fell headlong into a love affair where they could not bear to be apart from one another.
Elizabeth, one of the most beautiful women in the world, with a cleavage to match, had always danced to the beat of her own drum and their love was so all-consuming that neither of them gave a thought to anyone else who may be impacted by their affair or the consequences. At the time, Elizabeth was married to Eddie Fisher, whose marriage to Debbie Reynolds had broken up a couple of years previously and Richard Burton was married to Sybil Williams.
By the end of 1963, Burton was divorced and Taylor’s divorce was finalized in March 1964 after she accompanied Burton to Puerto Vallarta where he was to film “The Night of the Iguana” in nearby Mismaloya an isolated fishing village in the wilds of Mexico.
John Huston was to direct the movie of “The Night of the Iguana” with a cast that included Richard Burton, Ava Gardener, Deborah Kerr and Sue Lyon as the leads. He had already directed the play on Broadway, “A tense drama of morality, lust and love.”
Rather than film on a sound stage in Hollywood, Huston chose a setting to resemble the town in Mexico, near Acapulco, where the action of the Tennessee Williams play takes place. He also wanted to isolate the actors from their normal lives and environment and place them under a certain amount of duress hoping to elicit the best possible performances from them.
The isolated, undeveloped fishing village of Mismaloya on the edge of the Mexican jungle was chosen as the venue for filming “The Night of the Iguana,” a destination that at that time could only be accessed by boat from Puerto Vallarta. Huston had been visiting Mexico for years and was familiar with the location. He was a very experienced director, well into his career, with a number of awards winning films, adding to the list when “The Night of the Iguana” received four nominations and one Academy Award.
Elizabeth Taylor accompanied Richard Burton and the rest of the cast and crew who arrived in Puerto Vallarta. They were booked to stay at the Hotel Oceano on the Malecon and the hotel was also to be the Production Headquarters for the movie. At that time, it was the leading hotel even though it had dirt floors.
One night Elizabeth had an “encounter” with a flying cockroach and she threatened to leave because of the bugs. According to the legend, Burton contacted John Huston and said:“If we don’t find suitable accommodation for Elizabeth, I’m afraid I won’t be able to star in your film.”
Enter Casa Kimberly
In the 1960’s Puerto Vallarta was nothing more than another small Mexican Fishing Village. Huston already owned Casa Kimberly on Calle Zaragoza above the Old Town in Puerto Vallarta and he suggested that Richard and Elizabeth move into his home and he would find somewhere else to live.
Brilliant idea, they absolutely fell in love with Casa Kimberly so much so that Richard Burton bought it from John Huston for the princely sum of $ 57,000. A few months later, when they had finished filming” Iguana” and before they were married, he gifted Casa Kimberly to Elizabeth on her 32nd Birthday as a token of his love, an early gift followed by many more over the years.
Trouble in Paradise
Perhaps the space was too small to contain both of their fiery, tempestuous personalities. After he gave Casa Kimberly to Elizabeth, Burton bought a smaller house next door for himself. A bridge modeled on the “Bridge of Sighs” in Venice was built connecting the two houses and was known as the “Puente del Amor” or “Bridge of Love”.
By this time, hordes of photographers and reporters had arrived in Puerto Vallarta to capture images and gossip of the lovebirds whose romance had gone global with headlines and photos appearing in papers all over the world. Living at Casa Kimberly with the connecting bridge, they were able to carry on their love affair in the privacy of their home away from the prying camera lenses and news reporters. The bridge afforded them privacy in going back and forth from one house to the other, whether to escape one another during their well-publicized alcohol-infused quarrels, to make up after a screaming match or just to give them each their own space.
Elizabeth loved this home and continued to use it throughout two marriages and divorces from Burton, bringing different members of her family from time to time.
After Richard Burton passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage at his home in Coligny Switzerland on August 6th, 1984, by which time he was married to Suzy Hunt, it became too painful for her ever to return here again. Even though each one had gone on with their lives after the second divorce, it was apparent the flame they held for each other was never extinguished.
Selling the Casa
Elizabeth sold Casa Kimberly in 1990 leaving all its contents inside, including furniture and personal effects. For a while, it was used as a Bed and Breakfast Inn and then turned into a museum to her memory before falling into disrepair when the new owners from California failed to pay the taxes. At one time it was on the market for $1.75 Million Dollars and in about 2006 it was bought by Janice Chatterton for an undisclosed amount.
Mrs. Chatterton also owned the Hacienda del Angel on the same street, that she had refurbished as a luxury boutique hotel. The new owner did a total refurbishment of the property, adding to its square footage and redoing all the spaces to bring it up to date for a modern boutique hotel. The refurbishment was done in extremely good taste and furnished in an understated, sophisticated style, making use of antiques and reproduction antique furniture including some items from Mrs. Chatterton’s personal collection. No expense was spared. It has exceptional artwork adorning the walls adding a richness to the rusticity of the other finishes and there are reminders of the Burton’s throughout the Hotel. The new incarnation of the original two homes has increased square footage and opened on December 1st, 2015 after a lengthy refurbishment.
The “Burton Effect” on Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta was a small Mexican Fishing Village when the cast and crew of “The Night of the Iguana” arrived. Following closely behind, were hordes of photographers and journalists, hoping to get some pictures of them living in Puerto Vallarta or juicy snippets of gossip.
For a while, the Lovers could not go into “town” without being hounded and mobbed, but as time went by, they were able to move more freely and could be seen wandering around the Old Town’s “Zona Romantica”, eating at the restaurants or shopping. The local population welcomed them and in turn, the Burtons showed generosity to their hosts.
Photographs of them at this time, reveal a happy couple and Elizabeth appeared more beautiful and radiant than ever. This was the moment in time that Puerto Vallarta morphed from a sleepy, backwater of a fishing village to a magnet for international visitors and wealthy Mexicans to visit and purchase homes.
It is difficult to quantify the effect the Burton’s had on Puerto Vallarta but there is no doubt their technicolor lives were the catalyst that put it on the global map. Fortunately, the “Romantic Zone” has maintained its authentic Mexican character and it continues to weave its old-world charm on all who come to visit.
Visiting Casa Kimberly
Casa Kimberly, at 445 Calle Zaragoza, a few blocks off one of the main streets in Puerto Vallarta’s Romantic Zone is easy to find.
The cobblestone road is narrow, on an incline, with a couple of sharp turns and space for one car only at a time, as one side is used to park cars. The neighborhood is known as “Gringo Gulch,” wherein the 1950’s many Americans chose to buy or build homes because of its picture-perfect views and closeness to the charming Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta, the Malecon and the surrounding beaches.
Seeing the “Puente del Amor” or “Love Bridge” overhead that connects the two houses, I knew I had arrived at Casa Kimberly.
There is an ornate iron screen allowing one to catch a glimpse of a bronze sculpture of Elizabeth and Richard in the entrance. A bronze plaque on the wall confirms this is Casa Kimberly the former home of the Burton’s.
Giving the hanging brass bell above the door a tug, it gave off a loud clang and the door was opened by Isabel, who was to give me a tour of the Casa. We walked up some steps and saw a large portrait of Elizabeth hanging on the wall, with those beautiful blue violet eyes staring back.
The two buildings that were occupied by the Burtons, were bought and restored immaculately by Mrs. Janice Chatterton on the original site. The location is ideal.
It is peaceful and serene while being a short walk from the Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta with its cobblestone streets, taco stands, artisan markets, eclectic shopping and a host of restaurants and food choices.
It is also close to the Malecon that recently underwent a restoration that included the installation of several oversized sculptures.
The two houses are connected by the “Bridge of Love.” There are now nine suites, including the Elizabeth Suite and the Richard Suite, plus the Iguana Restaurant and Bar and two treatment rooms. The overall structure is larger than the original homes.
The one side houses three suites including Richard’s Suite and the swimming pool. The other side has Elizabeth’s suite on the top floor, where it always was, plus five more suites and two spa treatment rooms.
Each room is individually designed. It has a rustic feel, white walls, honey-colored marble floors and white gauze cotton curtains to match the white bed linens, Artwork throughout is impressive, making use of large scale oil on canvas paintings
Half of the lighting fixtures are custom made from ironwork while the others are Swarovski Crystal adding an elegant touch. The use of lighted candles at night adds to the romantic ambiance. Most of the rooms have plunge baths on their private verandas, where one can luxuriate enjoying the view overlooking the Bay of Banderas and the Sierra Madre Mountains rising up from the Bay.
There are niches and alcoves throughout with sculptures and interesting vistas and the sound of trickling water from fountains.
The tile work is exceptional, making use of Mexican blue and white tiles lining the steps or the walls. The ceilings are constructed in traditional style, with bricks lining the domes and connected with wooden beams that make an important architectural element.
It is apparent that no expense has been spared to recreate this homage to Casa Kimberly.
Elizabeth’s Suite is accessed by its own dedicated elevator or a separate blue and white tiled staircase.
It has 2,500 square feet of accommodation on the top floor and has a wraparound terrace with its own swimming pool.
The view is priceless, taking in the surrounding hillside of Gringo Gulch with its terracotta-roofed houses, the green belt on either side of the Cuale River and the hillside across the Bay of Banderas. In the 1960’s, it was covered in jungle and is now built up with Condos that have been sold to ex-pats from North America, England and wealthy Mexicans mostly from Mexico City.
The original heart-shaped bath made of pink marble that was commissioned by Elizabeth Taylor has been restored.
Leading up to the bath, there are two marble columns as if directing one to the bath that is the centerpiece of her dressing area. A hand-carved bed matches the hand-carved armoire that now houses the TV. A Swarovski crystal chandelier draws the eye to an overhead cupola, lined with hand-painted cherubs. The room itself is uncluttered with the same white gauzy curtains that appear in all the bedrooms. This allows the handsome, large, oil canvas paintings on the wall to give it dramatic impact.
The Iguana Restaurant
The Iguana Restaurant serves updated Mexican Food and is one of the top restaurants in Puerto Vallarta garnering rave reviews on the Internet. It has retractable windows and spectacular views overlooking the “Zona Romantica” of Puerto Vallarta, the Bay of Banderas and the hills rising up across the Bay.
Helmed by Executive Chef Eduardo Mishaga Lucero, the emphasis is on serving fresh farm to table ingredients from local suppliers. The white table clothed tables have beautiful cutlery and monogrammed China. While the guests dine, they are serenaded by a popular Mariachi Band that visits every evening.
Either before or after dinner, guests congregate at the Tequila Bar, which is well stocked with the best Tequilas and Mescals that are produced in the State of Jalisco, not far from Casa Kimberly. They serve flights of Tequila or Mescal and offer tasting classes. From the bar, there is another wrap-around balcony where guests can relax in the day or night and enjoy the view and the ambiance.
This is a superb, luxury experience in a unique, iconic boutique hotel, designed and put together with great style and no expense spared.
Casa Kimberly Information
- Address: Casa Kimberly Calle Zaragoza 445, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- Rates: $300 – $600 per night upwards depending on room selection and time of year, includes breakfast.
- Contact: [email protected]
- Telephone: 52/322 222 1336 and 877/218- 3248