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Beverly Hills Unveiled: Unraveling the Enigmatic History of the 1910s and 1920s

Beverly Hills, an illustrious city nestled in the heart of Los Angeles County, has long been associated with opulence, luxury, and a lifestyle of the elite. However, its journey towards becoming a world-renowned symbol of wealth and glamour began in the early 20th century. Let’s explore the captivating history of Beverly Hills in the 1910s and 1920s, tracing its transformation from a rural landscape into a coveted destination for the rich and famous.

Beverly Hills was originally a Spanish ranch named El Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, meaning "The Ranch of the Gathering Waters." In the early 20th century, the area's potential as a suburban retreat was recognized by investors, including Burton E. Green and Max Whittier. These visionaries purchased the land and embarked on an ambitious development project, transforming the open countryside into a thriving community.

The 1910s witnessed the birth of Beverly Hills as a glamorous enclave favored by the Hollywood elite. With its proximity to the nascent movie industry, the city became a magnet for film stars seeking respite from the bustling city. Celebrities like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin were among the first to acquire lavish estates, paving the way for the area's reputation as a haven for the rich and famous.

During the 1920s, Beverly Hills experienced a surge in architectural development and urban planning. The city's iconic architectural styles, including Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival, began to take shape. Notable architects, such as Elmer Grey and Wallace Neff, were instrumental in designing the luxurious residences that defined the landscape of the city. The Beverly Hills Hotel, with its distinctive pink stucco facade, became an enduring symbol of Beverly Hills' elegance and grandeur.

One of the most renowned shopping destinations in the world, Rodeo Drive, came into prominence in the 1920s. Originally a residential street, Rodeo Drive transformed into a high-end retail district, catering to the affluent residents of Beverly Hills and beyond. Luxury boutiques, upscale shops, and exquisite jewelers lined the street, attracting discerning shoppers seeking the finest in fashion and luxury goods.

Beyond its reputation for wealth and luxury, Beverly Hills also flourished as a cultural hub during the 1910s and 1920s. The city boasted world-class theaters and art galleries, attracting renowned artists, musicians, and intellectuals. The Beverly Hills Playhouse, founded in 1917, became a prominent theater company, staging productions that captivated audiences and fostered a vibrant artistic community.

The 1910s and 1920s were not without challenges for Beverly Hills. The city faced setbacks, including a devastating flood in 1914, which prompted the construction of the Beverly Hills Speedway, a racetrack that hosted prestigious motor racing events. Despite these challenges, Beverly Hills continued to grow and thrive, thanks to the resilience of its residents and the allure of its glamorous lifestyle.

The transformation of Beverly Hills in the 1910s and 1920s from a rural landscape to a glamorous enclave is a captivating chapter in the city's history. As movie stars and wealthy individuals flocked to the area, Beverly Hills evolved into an iconic symbol of wealth, luxury, and cultural refinement. Its architectural


Pic 1: A great aerial looking NW over what would become the central business district of BH with The Flats stretching beyond in 1922. What can you pick out? I'll post a detailed pic in stories.

Pic 2: One of BH's many beautiful tree-lined streets seen here in 1926. Usually I can pick out the streets by the trees & the relationship to the hills in the distance but I can't figure this one out. Any ideas?

Pic 3: The Beverly Hills Hotel and Will Rogers Memorial Park (then Sunset Park) - 1920. the streetcar, that open space you see on the left, and particularly interested in what seems to be a little door next to the steps in the park.

Pic 4: Greystone in its early stages of construction -1927. Less than two years after this photo was taken, its owner Ned Doheny and his secretary would both be dead in a sensational crime that gripped the city.

Pic 5: Looking down Canon Dr. from just below Elevado - ca. 1918. You can see the first BH Pacific Electric station further ahead.

Pic 6: The gates to the Doheny Ranch - date unknown but looks to be 1920s. The Doheny Ranch was attached to Greystone & together they formed an impressive tract of over 400 acres. They were separated once Lucy Doheny (widow of Ned) put the house & land up for sale in separate deals. Paul Trousdale bought the land & developed his Trousdale Estates starting in 1954.

Pic 7: Looking north up an undeveloped S. Beverly Dr. just below Olympic Blvd. - 1925. The brand new Beverly Theatre is off in the distance which was BH's first movie theater. It was torn down in 2005 and is now the Maybourne.

Pic 8: The short-lived first Beverly Hills City Hall - 1926. Located at Burton Way (today this portion is S. Santa Monica) and Crescent, it was replaced by the current city hall just seven years after being built.

Pic 9: Looking E on Santa Monica from Canon - ca. 1915.

Pic 10: The Beverly Wilshire right around the time it opened as seen from Beverly Dr. - ca. 1928. The Wilshire Beverly Center now blocks this view entirely.

Pics 1-3, 5, 6 & 9 from the USC Archives.

Pics 4, 8 & 10 from the CA State Library.

Pic 7 from the Huntington Archives.

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