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Beverly Hills Centennial: 5 things you probably didn't know about the history of 90210

by Kevin Ferguson with Patt Morrison | Off-Ramp®

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Intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, looking toward the Brown Derby Restaurant (no longer standing) on May 23, 1960. Photo taken from the Union Bank Building. Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner Collection

This year, Beverly Hills celebrates 100 years of cityhood. It's one of the most iconic cities in the United States. We all know Rodeo Drive. We all know its zip code, its palatial houses. But how did Beverly Hills get to be the upscale paradise it is today? Here are five things you probably didn't know about the history of the hills.

1. It used to be a field of lima beans

Before it had a name, the now lavish, comfortable town used to be home to one of the largest lima bean fields in California. After several failed attempts to find oil underneath, developer Burton Green bought the land and named it Beverly Hills, after the town of Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.

Why Beverly Farms? "President Taft liked to vacation in Beverly Farms, and Burton Green liked President Taft," says KPCC's Patt Morrison.

2. The entire city was planned

Landscape architect Wilbur Cook designed the city's look and layout to look almost garden-like, with parks and trees.  "It was planned in every sense. From the streets being laid out, from the trees that were designated on each street," says Gail Stein, archivist for the Beverly Hills Public Library. "The type of trees, the size of the lot..."

Green sold the land to developers in lots. Stein says his goal was to make the city look uniformly beautiful, but not too rigidly similar. The now world-famous Rodeo Drive was built in 1907.

3. Beverly Hills has almost always been wealthy...

In 1912, the Beverly Hills Hotel opened its doors. Still open today, its fun, upscale atmosphere attracted movie stars and East Coast moneymakers right off the bat. When developers began constructing houses nearby, what moneyed Angeleno could resist?

RELATEDThe Beverly Hills Hotel gets landmark status on its 100th birthday

4. ...but it wasn't a town for old money at first

"In the '20s, the celebrities started coming," said archivist Gail Stein. "Primarily [it was] started by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and they encouraged other celebrities to come. It snowballed." Pickford and Fairbanks founded the famous Pickford estate, where, as KPCC's Patt Morrison puts it:

Fairbanks had a new brand of tires delivered via the Goodyear blimp. “Just unload them right here,” said the matinee idol, as the blimp landed on the lawn of Pickfair, the world-famous house he shared with his bride and fellow star, Mary Pickford. The new tires were destined for Fairbanks’ new car – a little number called a National Sextet.

5. During the Great Depression, Beverly Hills prospered

In fact, the city expanded: it built a new Civic Center, three new movie theaters. "They had nonstop promotional advertisements," says Stein.  "Stressing the image of a first rate city. So a lot of it was propaganda. And specialty shops came about; Saks Fifth Avenue was constructed during this time."

Want to help celebrate the city's centennial? The City of Beverly Hills has events going on all this year, including a panel discussion about the city's future on April 8. Check the city's website for more information.

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