Beverly Hills, with its iconic ZIP code 90210, is synonymous with wealth, status, and fame. Known for its luxurious mansions and celebrity residents, the city has become a symbol of opulence. But what lies behind this image? How did Beverly Hills become so rich and famous? This article explores the intricate history, urban planning, and social dynamics that have shaped Beverly Hills into the city it is today.
History of Beverly Hills
- Early Settlement: The first European settlers were the Spanish, who established an agricultural community in the 1830s. Livestock agriculture and lima bean farms were prominent in the area.
- Real Estate Development: In the 1900s, real estate developers purchased ranch land with the hope of finding oil. When this proved unsuccessful, the land was planned for a new community, leading to the incorporation of Beverly Hills.
Urban Planning and Architecture
- Mansions and Homes: Beverly Hills is home to some of the largest mansions in the U.S., with a third of the top 15 largest homes in the LA area located within the city.
- Gated Homes: Planning for a city full of gated homes has been a complex task, reflecting the exclusivity and privacy desired by the residents.
- Rodeo Drive: Famous for luxury boutiques, Rodeo Drive is a symbol of high-end shopping. However, other parts of Rodeo Drive fit into upper-middle-class neighborhoods, showing the diversity within the city.
Social Dynamics and Pop Culture
- Celebrity Influence: The stereotype that everyone in Beverly Hills is a rich movie star has been perpetuated through pop culture, although the reality is more nuanced.
- Wealth and Influence: The residents of Beverly Hills are not only wealthy but also incredibly well-connected and influential.
- Neighboring Enclaves: Beverly Hills is surrounded by other wealthy neighborhoods like Bel Air and Holmby Hills, contributing to the area’s reputation.
Challenges and Controversies
- Income Inequality: Beverly Hills has faced criticism for having significant income inequality within California.
- Water Conservation: Issues related to water conservation have also been a concern, with the city’s lavish swimming pools and gardens often under scrutiny.
Diversity and Social Dynamics in Beverly Hills
Racial Covenants and Early Development
- Restrictive Covenants: In its early development, Beverly Hills used restrictive covenants that excluded people of color and Jewish people, a common practice in the U.S. at the time.
- Attracting Hollywood Stars: The construction of mansions for popular actors like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford attracted more celebrities, solidifying Beverly Hills’ image as a place for the wealthy and famous.
Water Supply and Annexation Attempts
- Water Crisis: With the influx of celebrities, Beverly Hills faced a water supply crisis in the 1920s. The proposed remedy was annexation by Los Angeles, but residents opposed it, believing in a separate identity for Beverly Hills.
- Celebrity Intervention: Huge actors and the Beverly Hills Utility Commission publicly opposed annexation, successfully squashing the proposal.
Growth and Annexation of Troutdale Estates
- Annexation of Troutdale Estates: 30 years later, Beverly Hills grew by annexing Troutdale Estates, home to celebrities like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.
The Black Beverly Hills
- View Park: Black celebrities who couldn’t buy in Beverly Hills moved to View Park, known as the “black Beverly Hills,” the largest, wealthiest, and most architecturally distinct black neighborhood in the U.S.
- Iranian Immigrants: About 25% of Beverly Hills’ population consists of immigrants from Iran, particularly Persian Jews. This influx has led to conflicts over architectural styles, with Persian palaces becoming part of the landscape.
Income Inequality and Economic Divide
- North and South Divide: Beverly Hills has a dividing line between the north and south parts of the city, with the richest residents living north of Santa Monica Boulevard and the less rich to the south.
- Income Inequality: Beverly Hills holds the record for the highest income inequality in California, with the top 20% of households accounting for 62.5% of the total income, and the bottom 20% only making up 1.6% of total earnings.
- Middle-Class Residents: In Beverly Hills, middle-class residents would be considered very high income elsewhere, reflecting the unique economic dynamics of the city.
Urban Planning and Environmental Challenges
Highway Network and Political Power
- Avoiding Highways: Unlike the rest of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills has avoided being cut into by LA’s massive highway network. Only California State Route 2 runs through it at grade.
- Political Influence: The wealthy residents of Beverly Hills had enough political power to stop even an underground highway through their city, demonstrating their influence over urban planning.
- Swimming Pools and Drought: With 2481 swimming pools, water conservation is a significant issue in Beverly Hills, especially in a state prone to drought.
- Water Consumption Targets: Since the 2012-2016 drought, California has imposed strict water consumption targets. While the state average was 72.6 gallons per person per day, Beverly Hills residents were using 151 to 281 gallons.
- Failure to Meet Goals: In 2016, Beverly Hills residents had not met any of their goals for water consumption decreases, leading to heavy fines from the state Water Resources Control Board.
Privacy and Exclusivity
Gated Homes and Privacy Concerns
- Gates and Walls: Beverly Hills is characterized by many gates and walls, reflecting residents’ concern about privacy. The city caters towards private vehicles, with limited space for pedestrians, and extra tall hedges protect properties from outside view.
- Individual Islands: Individual properties act as their own little islands, with a focus on personal castles. This has led to opposition to affordable housing within the city’s boundaries.
Affordable Housing Challenges
- State Requirements: California requires all cities to plan for new affordable housing, but Beverly Hills has not done its fair share. The state rejected Beverly Hills’ housing plan, and the city is being sued by the non-profit Californians for Homeownership.
- Difficulty in Building Housing: Beverly Hills is a difficult place to build housing as all of its land is already developed. The city even managed to decrease its population count in recent years, reflecting its exclusivity.
Reflections and Observations
Downtown Beverly Hills
- Density and Cars: Downtown Beverly Hills is surprisingly dense and bustling but choked with cars. It appears to be a place where people want to be seen with their fancy vehicles.
- Car-Free Zones: The idea of making places like Rodeo Drive completely car-free is suggested, with a note that a small car-free section of downtown was the best part.
Urban Planning Weaknesses
- Lack of Sidewalks and Bike Lanes: The lack of consistent sidewalks and bike lanes is seen as a weakness, reflecting a place where cars are status symbols and there isn’t much demand for alternative modes of transportation.
The Allure of Beverly Hills
- Special Appeal: Despite the observations, there’s an acknowledgment of a special allure to Beverly Hills, understanding why it might be appealing to others, even if it’s not the author’s preference.
Beverly Hills, with its iconic status, luxurious mansions, celebrity residents, and unique urban planning, offers a fascinating glimpse into a world of wealth, power, and exclusivity. The city’s history, social dynamics, environmental challenges, and architectural diversity paint a complex picture that goes beyond the stereotypes.
From its early development to its current status as a haven for the rich and famous, Beverly Hills continues to intrigue and inspire. Its residents’ influence, focus on privacy, resistance to affordable housing, and prioritization of individual interests over broader societal concerns reflect a community that is both admired and criticized.
The reflections on the density, car culture, and urban planning weaknesses offer an outsider’s perspective, adding another layer to the understanding of this unique city. Whether one sees Beverly Hills as a dream destination or a symbol of inequality, it remains a compelling study in American culture, urban planning, and social dynamics.