Beverly Hills is transected east-west by three main boulevards: north of Sunset Boulevard are foothills containing the Beverly Hills Hotel (with its famous Polo Lounge and pink bungalows) and luxurious mansions among the winding drives; south of Sunset Boulevard are the flatlands, containing other expensive homes and, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard, many chic shops, boutiques, and department stores. The most exclusive of these are on the old Rodeo Drive and the newer Two Rodeo Drive, a multilevel shopping street in mock Mediterranean style. The city also has some light manufacturing south of Wilshire Boulevard, though tourism is its economic mainstay. The area of Beverly Hills—5.7 square miles (14.8 square km)—contains several parks and is profusely planted with trees, shrubbery, and lawns. The city is bordered to the southwest by the studios of Twentieth Century-Fox, whose lots, however, have now largely been converted into Century City, a shopping mall, office-building centre, and theatre complex. The city contains a branch of the Museum of Television and Radio. Inc. 1914. Pop. (2000) 33,784; (2010) 34,109.
Rancho Beverly Hills
In 1838, the Mexican governor of California deeded the land grant El Rodeo de las Aguas to Maria Rita Valdez Villa, the Afro Latina widow of a Spanish soldier. Maria Rita, an early California feminist icon, built an adobe ranch house near the intersection of present day Sunset Boulevard and Alpine Drive. She employed a vast posse of cowboys and proceeded to raise cattle and horses.
As was the custom of a time, Maria Rita permitted her livestock to wander freely, but once a year a festive roundup, another kind of rodeo, was held beneath a huge eucalyptus tree at the corner of Pico and Robertson boulevards.
The Glamour Era
Attracted to an elegant lifestyle made possible by the hotel, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford led the wave of movie stars here when they bought an existing hunting lodge and had it redesigned into the their mansion, Pickfair, in 1919. Gloria Swanson, Will Rogers, Thomas Ince, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, Carl Laemmle, Ronald Coleman, King Vidor, John Barrymore, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Jack Warner, Clara Bow, Marion Davies, Harry Cohn and Rudolph Valentino soon followed and built stylish mansions.
Life during the Roaring 20s accelerated with the construction of a huge, banked wooden racetrack, dominating most of the southern section of the City. The Speedway drove Beverly Hills further toward the center of America's popular imagination via radio broadcasts of races that were on the same scale as today's Indy 500. The speedway also was sometimes used as a base for another national craze: aviation.
The very existence of Beverly Hills was threatened by a proposal to annex the City to Los Angeles in 1923. Los Angeles, proponents argued, would provide an inexhaustible supply of clean water for growth. Emboldened by their new local identity, residents Will Rogers (who later became the City's first mayor), Mary Pickford and others mobilized local voters against the plan. Pro-annexation workers left bottles of the sulfur-smelling water on the doorsteps of every Beverly Hills home with a label that read: "Warning. Drink sparingly of this water as it has laxative qualities. Despite these "dirty" campaign tactics, annexation failed 507-337.
This "war of independence" was perhaps the first union of show business and politics in our national life. Long before Ronald Reagan went from soundstage to governor's mansion, Rogers, a wise cracking political humorist, became honorary first mayor of Beverly Hills. Rogers went on to play a part in the development of Beverly Hills by fostering construction of a new City Hall in 1932 and the establishment of a U.S. Post Office in 1934.
Beverly Hills continued to grow. Promotional materials from the period touted the young metropolis as "center of the next million." Fortunately, human-scale public improvements helped soften the effects of growth. In the 1930s, Santa Monica Park was renamed Beverly Gardens and was extended to span the length of the City. The famous Electric Fountain was installed. A finely modeled sculpture atop the fountain shows a Tongva in prayer, homage to Beverly Hills’ heritage as a wellspring of fertility and abundance.
A Modern City
In the post World War II years, Beverly Hills continued to develop as one of the most glamorous places in the world to live, eat, play and, especially, shop. The Golden Triangle, with Rodeo Drive at its center, was built and marketed to the rest of the world as the shopping destination of a lifetime. Many other glamorous hotels opened, notably the Beverly Wilshire, attracting visitors from all over the world. The City's iconic image was enhanced with the spread of television shows and movies set in Beverly Hills, among them The Jack Benny Show in the 1950s, The Beverly Hillbillies in the 1960s and, more recently, Beverly Hills Cop in the 1980s and Beverly Hills 90210 in the 1990s.
By the 1950's, few vacant lots remained and developers cropped whole mountains to ease the housing shortage. Today, such excessive development has stopped and the population is around 34,000 and growing slowly. But the mystique of Beverly Hills as a place of wealth and beauty continues to grow as it has since the days of the Tongva -- who taught residents to appreciate of the abundance of the present while preserving what remains of the past with reverence.