The Amazing History of Beverly Hills. By Joyce Rey
Reflecting on the city’s heritage
Here in Beverly Hills, surrounded as we are by properties of such great distinction, it’s humbling to consider that not so very long ago this was a landscape of scrubby canyons, lima bean fields, grazing cows, and the occasional oil rig.
Residences have a sense of grandeur and permanence. Magnificent trees tower over homes, gardens, and roadways. But it only takes a quick glance at early 20th century photos to see how it looked before, and how quickly the city took shape.
While those photos don’t reveal the lifestyle of the Tongva and Gabrielino people who once thrived here, or show us what Don Gaspar de Portolá saw when his expedition paused here in 1769 (California Historic Landmark No. 665 marks the site at 325 South La Cienega, between Olympic and Gregory Way), they do let us look into the imagination of those who shaped the city.
Our architectural heritage is impressive. The City’s List of Master Architects includes some of the world’s most prominent and influential architects, designers, builders, and landscape architects. (And on the list of illustrious influencers, we cannot leave off Will Rogers, who lived in the City in the late 1920s and served as the Honorary Mayor of Beverly Hills from 1926 to 1928, and who advised his constituents, “Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.”)
I’m surprised every time I look at the 1912 photos of the Beverly Hills Hotel (City of Beverly Hills Historic Landmark No. 1) standing alone in the empty landscape. How could that distinguished and dynamic place be more than a century old?
The Hotel is just one of many Beverly Hills structures that have been designated as National, State, and/or City landmarks. The magnificent Doheny Estate, Greystone Mansion, designed by the architect Gordon B. Kaufmann and constructed by the P.J. Walker Company, is the epitome of luxury real estate in Beverly Hills and surely one of the grandest estates ever built in the City. Both a City and a National landmark, the entire 18.3-acre site has operated as a City of Beverly Hills public park since 1971.
Completed in 1932 (a decade after the city survived an effort at annexation to Los Angeles), the Spanish Renaissance-style Beverly Hills City Hall was designed by William Gage and Harry Koerner and constructed by the Herbert M. Baruch Corporation. Its rich facade and symmetrical beauty is topped with a stunning mosaic dome.
It was later, in 1952, that Frank Lloyd Wright completed the Anderton Court Center (also a National and City historic landmark), his only retail design in Southern California, and his last structure in the Los Angeles area. With its riff on “Streamline Moderne” and Art Deco styles, it was a dramatic addition to Rodeo Drive. But it was in the 1960s, when Fred Hayman launched Giorgio Beverly Hills, that Rodeo Drive truly began its transformation into an international destination for those seeking brands of incomparable luxury and glamour.
In these quiet days, it’s nice to reflect on both the natural and the built environment that surrounds us. We have much to appreciate.