Elements of Urbanism: Beverly Hills

January 18, 2012 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville heads west to the downtown of one of the most famous cities in the country: Beverly Hills, CA.

Tale of the Tape:

Beverly Hills Pop. 2010: 34,109 (City); 12,828,837 (Los Angeles Metro) - (incorporated in 1906)

Jacksonville Pop. 2010: 821,784 (City); 1,345,596 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Beverly Hills (29,032)

Metropolitan Area Growth Rate (2000-2010)

Beverly Hills (Los Angeles): +3.75%
Jacksonville: +19.85%

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

Beverly Hills: +325
Jacksonville: +86,281

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Beverly Hills: N/A
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Beverly Hills: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Beverly Hills: The Regent Beverly Wilshire - 164 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies:

Beverly Hills: Live Nation Entertainment (444)
Jacksonville: CSX (230), Winn-Dixie Stores (324), Fidelity National Financial (398), Fidelity National Information Services (426)

Urban infill obstacles:

Beverly Hills: N/A.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Beverly Hills: North Canon Drive
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Limited fixed transit connectivity with rest of metropolitan area.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Beverly Hills: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 78 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

History of Beverly Hills

On October 22, 1906, the community of Beverly Hills was declared open by the Percy H. Clark Co., managers of the tract of land. It was described as a "beautiful suburban residence between this city Los Angeles and Santa Monica." The community was designed to allow the buyers to build a custom house on the land they purchased in the new development. The Rodeo Land and Water Company (Burton Green) decided to name it Beverly Hills after Beverly Farms in Beverly, Massachusetts. Prior to this, the land was known as the Hammel and Denker ranch, which was one of Southern California's most fertile lands for growing lima beans. As an area bounded today by Wilshire Boulevard to the south, the foothills just above Sunset Boulevard to the north, Whittier Drive on the west, and Doheny Drive to the east, Hammel and Denker ranch was part of the land grant known as El Rodeo de Las Aguas (the Ranch of the Gathering Waters) and was purchased in 1906 by a syndicate of railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, oil tycoon Charles A. Canfield, W G. Kerckhoff, W. S. Porter, Burton M. Green, and real estate developer Max Whittier. It lies in the old Morocco Junction of the Los Angeles Pacific road, where the Hollywood and Colgrove branches connect. The investment company marketed Beverly Hills as "between the city and the sea."

In September, 1911, work began on the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Los Angeles Times would call it a "monster hostelry" since it cost $300,000. At the time, lots were selling for around $2,000 each.

In 1919, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford bought land on Summit Drive and built Pickfair. In 1921, they announced that they would build the home that they had been "dreaming" about in Beverly Hills.

Will Rogers, a wisecracking political humorist, wrote of the land boom in 1923, "Lots are sold so quickly and often out here that they put through escrow made out to the 12th owner... They couldn't possibly make out a separate deed for each purchaser; besides, he wouldn't have time to read it in the 10 minutes' time he owned the land."

The movie colony was well entrenched by 1928 when Harold Lloyd ('Greenacres'), John Barrymore, Robert Montgomery, and Miriam Hopkins built residences there.

The population in 1920 was 674; in 1924, it was 5,000; by 1930, it was 17,429.

The issuance of building permits in 1918 totaled $35,200; in 1919, $304,900; in 1921, $787,729; 1922, $1,838,994.

In early 1920, the Beverly Hills Speedway, a 1.25 miles  wood oval track with turns banked 35 degrees was opened. Joe Boyer ran his race car 110 miles per hour during the exhibition run.[citation needed] The races drew huge crowds and radio broadcasts were on a par with today's Indianapolis 500. There were also aviation shows, another national craze. The speedway was closed in 1924 and the site was later subdivided for housing and businesses.

In 1923, annexation to the city of Los Angeles was proposed, but faced opposition. Residents Mary Pickford, Will Rogers and others mobilized local voters against the plan.[citation needed] Those for annexation argued that Los Angeles would provide an adequate supply of better quality water for growth. Workers left bottles of sulfur-smelling water on the doorsteps of every home in Beverly Hills with a label that read: "Warning. Drink sparingly of this water as it has laxative qualities." Despite the campaign tactics, annexation was defeated 507 to 337.[citation needed] The following year, the city voted $400,000 in bonds to purchase the water system from the Beverly Hills Utilities Company and drill additional wells.

This fight for an independent city was arguably the first union of show business and politics in the United States. When Will Rogers became involved in the local city government the community received international advertising. In 1925, Rogers was given the title "Honorary Mayor of Beverly Hills," becoming the first and (to date) only person so honored as such. The same year, the citizens of the city voted a $100,000 bond issue to purchase with Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Venice 385 acres for the building of UCLA. There were 96 miles of paved streets in the city limits by 1927. In 1928, the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard between El Camino and Rodeo Drives, part of the old Beverly Hills Speedway, was completed. That same year, Greystone Mansion was completed by Edward L. Doheny, Jr., the only son and heir of wealthy oil man Edward L. Doheny. And, in 1930, horses were banned in the City of Beverly Hills.

In the early 1930s, Santa Monica Park was renamed Beverly Gardens and was extended to span the entire two-mile length of Santa Monica Boulevard through the city. At its Santa Monica and Wilshire corner, the Electric Fountain, a constant symphony of form and color at night, was installed, with a small sculpture at the top of a Tongva kneeling in prayer, homage to the heritage of Beverly Hills as a wellspring of fertility and abundance.

In April 1931, the new Italian Renaissance-style City Hall was opened.

By 1933, the effects of the Depression were being felt in Beverly Hills. The city and school board cut salaries to save funds. In February, some 161 parcels of land were advertised for sale for delinquent lighting assessments. The Chamber of Commerce established an employment bureau, and the mayor requested a branch welfare office from the County of Los Angeles.[citation needed] By 1937, the city had weathered the storm of the Depression and was riding the crest of a wave of retail sales that reached more than $20,000,000, and bank deposits topped the $25,000,000 figure. Property values of that year showed a 30% increase over the previous year.

By the 1950s, small vacant lots remained and developers cropped whole mountains to ease the housing shortage. The stables and trails of the unusually large Doheny family estate; Greystone Mansion was bought by Paul Trousdale. The Trousdale Estates area was eventually annexed and an expensive housing development began to take shape in the hills above the city. Today Trousdale Estates is an enclave for Hollywood celebrities and media moguls.

Beverly Hills marketed itself as one of the most glamorous places in the world to shop. The Golden Triangle, with Rodeo Drive at its center, was marketed as the apex of chic shopping and fashion.

Via Rodeo was completed in 1990. The Spanish cobblestone street leads to 2 Rodeo Drive, a "mini-mall" with upscale shops and restaurants. In 1992, the Beverly Hills Civic Center was opened. Designed by architect Charles Moore, it links the new public library, fire department, and police department with the historic City Hall.

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Drive, and Canon Drive all recently underwent construction to widen the sidewalks and beautify the streets. New construction that added more parking for visitors to the famed shopping area has also just been completed.

Beverly Center.

Beverly Hills is a six-square-mile city with 34,109 residents, and a daytime population of more than 200,000 when employees and tourist arrive.

Wilshire Boulevard's Department Store Row is anchored by Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Barneys.

Wilshire Boulevard was named for Henry Gaylord Wilshire, an Ohio native who made and lost fortunes in real estate, farming, and gold mining.  The 16-mile, principal, east-west arterial road connects downtown Los Angeles to the city of Santa Monica.

The 395-room Beverly Wilshire Hotel was constructed on the site of the former Beverly Hills Speedway in 1928. Famous guests have included, among many others, President Barack Obama, the Emperor of Japan Hirohito, the Dalai Lama and Sadruddin Aga Khan, as well as the actors Michael Caine, Michael Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, Dustin Hoffman, Anjelica Huston, Elton John, Robert Pattinson, Walter Matthau and Al Pacino.

The Beverly Wilshire was one of the filming locations for the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, as well as a common filming location for HBO's Entourage television series, from 2004 until 2011.

The centerpiece of downtown Beverly Hills is Rodeo Drive.  Internationally known, this three-block shopping district is known for designer label and haute couture fashion.  Rodeo Drive is a great example of an urban streetscape designed to balance the needs of pedestrian and automobile movement.

To faciliate heavy pedestrian traffic, diagonal crossing is allowed at street intersections.

The Beverly Hills City Hall, built in 1932, was featured prominently in the Beverly Hills Cops films.

DID YOU KNOW?  Underneath the city is the large and still-productive Beverly Hills Oil Field, serviced by four urban drilling islands, which drill diagonally into the earth underneath the city. The most notorious of these drilling islands occasioned a 2003 lawsuit representing former attendees of Beverly Hills High School, approximately 280 of which having suffered from cancers allegedly tied to the drilling operations.

Other than weather and proximity to Interstate 10, the downtowns of Beverly Hills and Jacksonville have very little in common with each other.  Nevertheless, Beverly Hills is a good example of applied sound urban design techniques in creating a pedestrian-friendly scene.  These techniques include diverse architectural styles, buildings that interact with the sidewalks, sidewalks that leave space for outdoor dining, and well-maintained landscaping to buffer the pedestrian from vehicular traffic.

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis.