Main Content

Beverly Hills: Before all the glitz and glam

When anyone mentions Beverly Hills today, we think about rubbing elbows with celebrities, upscale shopping along Rodeo Drive, and reveling in all the finest things that come with genuine luxury living.

But have you ever wondered what this city of Hollywood glitz and glam was like before it became the epitome of opulence that it is today? Here are seven fascinating facts from Beverly Hills’ rich history:

The area was an oasis in the middle of the Los Angeles basin

Before Beverly Hills became one of the world’s most recognized centers of opulence, the area it occupied served a more practical purpose for its original inhabitants, the native Tongva people.

The Tongva gave the place a fitting name that translates to “the gathering of the waters” – a name that the earliest Spanish explorers kept, translating it to “El Rodeo de las Aguas.”

The area’s precious waters were not spared from droughts in the mid-1850s, however. These devastating events severely affected agriculture and livestock, leading to a number of changes in the property’s ownership.

There was a failed attempt to develop a North African-themed subdivision here

It seems hard to imagine Beverly Hills as anything other than what it is today. But in the 1880s, a pair of developers purchased the land with a plan to build a residential area built with a specific North African theme.

The subdivision would have been called “Morocco,” but the era of the United States’ “Long Depression” (1873-1896) was in full swing at the time. Because of unfavorable economic conditions, the project failed to gain traction.

The promise of oil reserves kept the location a hot commodity

Massive droughts and even an economic collapse would not be the end of the story of Beverly Hills. Interest from persistent investors and speculators kept the place relevant and afloat.

In 1900, the Amalgamated Oil Company, represented by Burton E. Green, acquired the land with the intention of capitalizing on suspected oil reserves around the area.

Instead of oil, however, the wells that Green had built on the property struck water in an unexpectedly abundant amount. The tenacious Green and his company pivoted to a new strategy, transforming Amalgamated Oil into the Rodeo Land and Water Company.

The name “Beverly Hills” came all the way from Massachusetts

Green is also credited, along with his wife, for giving Beverly Hills its name. Interestingly, the inspiration for it has roots on the East Coast. Named after the Beverly Farms neighborhood in Massachusetts, Beverly Hills opened as a subdivision in 1907 and was incorporated as a city in 1914.

The Beverly Hills Hotel was the building that started it all

Things would soon come full circle for the place first recognized for its providential water resource.

Home sales were slow when the subdivision first opened, so Green built a building on the site that the Tongva people and early Spanish settlers noted for gathering water. That building, completed in 1912, was the Beverly Hills Hotel.

In addition to welcoming and encouraging travelers and sightseers to consider buying real estate in the area, the Beverly Hills Hotel also served as the early community’s main commercial and social center. It had everything from a city hall, to restaurants, a movie theater, a school, and even a place for religious worship.

Beverly Hills owes its sterling reputation to Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

Beverly Hills first drew the attention of the stars in 1919 when Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the most talked-about movie star couple at the time, bought a six-room hunting lodge on Summit Drive.

Soon enough, other actors and actresses, producers, and directors followed suit, turning Beverly Hills into a neighborhood of high-profile Hollywood celebrities almost overnight. Among them were Fairbanks’ best friend Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and the city’s honorary mayor Will Rogers.

Prominent names in the business field also fell to Beverly Hills’ growing allure. King C. Gillette, founder of the globally recognized razor brand, and Harry and Virginia Robinson of the J. W. Robinson’s department store chain were among the wealthy pioneer residents that promoted the mystique of this up-and-coming community.

Another drought almost made Beverly Hills part of Los Angeles

The area’s history of water shortage problems nearly derailed Beverly Hills’ growth as an independent city. In 1923, a motion that will enable Los Angeles to annex Beverly Hills was pushed. Proponents of the move cited the benefits of sharing LA’s more abundant and dependable water supply, which was sourced from the Owens Valley.

In the end, it was still Mary Pickford who spearheaded the city’s strong stance against the annexation. Backed by fellow Hollywood stars including Rogers, Harold Lloyd, and Conrad Nagel, Pickford led a successful opposition campaign anchored firmly on their clout as celebrities.

Embrace the lap of luxury with your very own Beverly Hills home. Work with me and my expertise as a seasoned Beverly Hills realtor will lead you to the best options in this highly coveted market. Call me today at 310.401.0901, or send me an email at James(at)JamesWeekley(dotted)com.