Beverly Hills is a small town really
Beverly Hills is a small town really, just five square miles of wide streets and tall trees and, it seems, a jewelry store on cartier love bracelet cheap every corner. Beauty shops outnumber booksellers 534 to eight. It is easier to find a psychiatrist than a gas station.
Nearly 34,000 people call Beverly Hills home and, for the most part, they do so with pride. A good number are film stars, corporate executives or millionaire immigrants. They tend to be big dreamers and connoisseurs, and they can hold serious conversations about such things as poise and savoir faire.
Beverly Hills' shady lanes are traversed by more Rolls Royces per square mile than anyplace else on Earth. Each year, from off the lot of the Beverly Hills dealership, 150 gleaming new models roll out at an average cost of $155,000. The dealer reports that these automobiles almost always are driven home by white male buyers who already own one. They almost always pay cash.
It is possible in Beverly Hills boutiques to pay $25,000 for a leather jacket, $90,000 for a mink blanket. The costliest home is a hillside French chateau with 40,000 square feet, a disco, two gymnasiums, a tennis court and two lane bowling alley, now listed for $30 million. The cheapest home is a 1,400 square foot structure with one bathroom just inside the city limits, priced to move at $665,000.
Wealth provides a moat of sorts. At a time when surrounding cities grapple with crime, gang warfare, urban decay, financial deficits, Beverly Hills remains what it always has been a symbol of the finest in life, of quality and social refinement.
"If there were a Camelot on Earth," boasts City Councilman Bob Tanenbaum, "it's Beverly Hills, in my opinion."
Under the glossy exterior, Beverly Hills is a complex, often contradictory place, more than just the sum of its price tags. It is as fragile and intricate as a Cartier watch, a balance of big city commerce and small town quiet.
Nowhere are there bigger or better parties. Nowhere are the schools so consistently excellent. Nowhere are the donations to charity so blessedly enormous, or the servants so impeccably dressed, or the swimming pools so languidly beautiful.
Still, renters outnumber homeowners. Democrats outnumber Republicans. Jews outnumber Christians. Some of Beverly Hills' children actually qualify for free school lunches.
The city government is run by 654 employees, most of whom commute each day from lesser homes, lesser communities, as far away as the Mojave Desert. Only six live in town.
"Frankly, most of us just can't afford to buy a house here," said Fire Chief William M. Daley, who drives in every morning from Torrance.
There are, of course, some troubles in paradise. Drug abuse and wretched extravagance wage a silent, ongoing battle against the forces of philanthropy and public service.
Beverly Hills has one of the highest divorce rates in California. On a per capita basis, it ranks among the nation's leaders in cartier love charity bracelet plastic surgeons and psychiatrists. Bedford Drive, at the base of the foothills, is so crowded with psychiatric offices that doctors facetiously refer to it as "Couch Canyon."
"In Beverly Hills, people relate money and financial success with being happy then they find out it doesn't work that way," said Dr. Jerome L. Oziel, who has spent 15 years treating the psyches of the rich.
For some, he said, the problem is being born with a silver spoon and discovering that it isn't quite good enough.
"There are people who will rent a home and try to make it appear as if they own the home, or who will lease a very expensive car and try to make it appear that they bought the car for cash," Oziel said. "When people fall from grace in Beverly Hills, they fall further. When they go bankrupt . . . when they have to move out of a $4 million house and move south of Olympic (Boulevard), it's very obvious.
"It's really a very small community."
Each day, the city swells to 150,000 or more inhabitants bankers, tourists, shop owners, maids, gardeners. Then at night, as the professionals return home, the gardeners load up their rakes and clippers in pickup trucks; the maids line up at the bus stops along Wilshire and Sunset boulevards, heading for inner city Los Angeles.
And, almost with a sigh, Beverly Hills shrinks back to size.
At his shop on Rodeo Drive, Giuseppe Battaglia caters to customers who think nothing of spending $15,000 to spruce up their wardrobe. At Battaglia, a pair of crocodile shoes is priced (but there are no price tags) at $1,700; a white satin shirt costs $600. Italian made Brioni suits come in plain wool for $2,000 or with 14 karat gold pinstriping for $6,000.
In a back room office, the graying, 79 year old Battaglia sits within walls of floor to ceiling mirrors, so that his own image is reflected back on itself a thousandfold, smaller and smaller and smaller, into infinity.
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