Video: History down and out in Beverly Hills

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Josh Mankiewicz Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/20/2006 7:46:59 PM ET 2006-04-20T23:46:59

Something’s missing in Beverly Hills:The city famous for its luxury homes is suddenly notorious for something else — tearing down historic homes in the name of progress.

The famous Beverly Theater is today a hole in the ground. The house where George Gershwin once crooned is now a pile of dirt. Lucille Ball’s home is unrecognizable.

“Beverly Hills is unique among communities on the west side of Los Angeles in lacking any process to review demolitions before they occur,” says Ken Bernstein of the Los Angeles Conservancy group.

Bernstein says Beverly Hills is throwing away its proud heritage brick by brick.  “It’s some of the great residences of the city that give it its incredible elegance and historic character that are being destroyed left and right,” he says.

There, new money has moved in right next door to old money. The result is a collision of cultures.

Most new residents in Beverly Hills come from Iran, and over more than 30 years, they’ve brought over their own money, their own taste, and their own concept of what constitutes a valuable home.

“In this city, 25 years building is historical,” says developer Hamid Omrani. “In my country, 25 century building, we call historical.”

Omrani is known as the king of the “Persian Palace.”  He’s built dozens of homes— big, expensive and above all, lavish.  He says in today’s real-estate market, size matters.  “It doesn’t make sense that you pay a lot of money and build a small houses,” Omrani says.

“I think putting them in these neighborhoods that have been here for 50 and 60 years is unfortunate,” says Beverly Hills resident Pat Parrish. “I think that they are… not very nice looking.” Parrish is typical of many longtime residents of Beverly Hills.

“Maybe, if a bunch of Californians move to Tehran, they would build little Spanish houses, I don’t know,” Parrish adds.

Omrani has heard it all before. “We have a respect for the history of the United States,” he says, “That’s the reason we are here.”

Right now, Omrani is looking forward to developing the former Gershwin property, even as Parrish is dreading it.

“I don’t see that as being a race issue,” Parrish says, “I think it’s a taste issue.”

Or maybe it’s a money issue? Because in this town, money trumps taste every time.

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