As Beverly Hills Celebrates 100 Years, Lend Your Voice

Beverly Hills is now gearing up for an 18-month long (!) centennial celebration of “style, class and glamour” which will culminate on January 28th of 2014 – exactly 100 years to the day of the city’s founding. With retired Playboy executive Richard Rosenzweig chairing a Blue ribbon committee to gin up ideas, could we expect a ‘What Happens in Las Vegas’ style fete? Or a more sober affair characteristic of the self-congratulatory, irony-free backslapping that is our city’s stock-in-trade?

That’s a false choice! We can affirm our “tradition of elegance and civic pride” (as the press release says) with a celebration worthy of a our long an interesting history, though it is not the history that you will likely read on the city’s website. That chronicle reads like a hasty phone-it-in effort that ends at the 1950s. (Really! Don’t we have a librarian who manages our historic collection who could lend a hand?)

If we are going to move beyond the “glamour era” upon which our official history dwells, we might have to take up the city’s offer to include us in the centennial planning effort! Maybe you’re thinking commemorative postage stamp or Rose Bowl parade float? The blue-ribbon committee has those covered. Or perhaps a coffee table book or time capsule? (Ditto.) At Better Bike we never tire of observing that Beverly Hills is itself a time capsule preserved in postwar Amber, much like that official history suggests.

We could celebrate the real history of the city rather than the glitz and gloss that is routinely pedaled by the city and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. We’re talking about the development that put our city on the map: mass transit! A century before we went to war with Metro over tunneling, a predecessor railroad’s ‘red cars’ took commuters out of town and brought visitors in to our shops and restaurants.

But in the intervening century we seem to have lost our romance for transit. In the 1980s we famously opposed the subway. Xenophobia triumphed as we capitalized on a construction tragedy to lobby Representative Henry Waxman to torpedo federal funding for it. Thirty years later we’re paying for that short-sightedness.

More recently we elected not to support bus rapid transit on Wilshire Boulevard. Instead of a limited-access busway to speed cross-town commutes, we tacitly sided with Westside NIMBYs in Condo Canyon to put a choke on a great idea that is finding success in cities across the globe. But not in Beverly Hills.

And now the Metro fight. As we recently said in the LA Times, we’re so focused on the tunnel battle that we’ve lost sign of the larger war on sclerotic Westside congestion.

Pacific Electric Alongside Santa Monica Blvd West of Doheney
Destination Santa Monica via Beverly Hills. Courtesy Tom Wetzel.

There was a time when we were a city served well by transit. We developed as a walking city with a vibrant commercial hub adjacent to the red car station at Little Santa Monica and Canon. That was long before motorists and pro-auto interests prevailed. Today, however, parking garages signify our priorities, and building ever-more of them has tanked our budget to the tune of a $20 million deficit.

Had century-old city leaders effectively opposed the streetcars instead of welcomed the connectivity that they offered, today we’d probably be saddled with the Beverly Hills Freeway (as proposed by the California Department of Transportation) instead of the boulevard that we have today.

We believe that Beverly Hills is about more than glamour and the traffic congestion that belies it, but we won’t hear anything about that from centennial organizers. Our city’s historic role as the juncture of two streetcar lines – or even as a town astride the famous Route 66, the ‘mother road’ that connected Chicago to the sea – won’t be celebrated. That’s a shame!

We should look back nostalgically to Route 66 (and Santa Monica Boulevard today) as a thematic spine for our city. Maybe we turned our back on Santa Monica Boulevard because the Beverly Hills Freeway proposal put a damper on our enthusiasm for the corridor. But why not celebrate the Pacific Electric railroad in our official narrative? Though city leaders have never exactly rallied to support mass transit, we can still recognize our long connection, right?

We’ve suggested as much to the blue ribbon committee:

From our antecedent as ‘Morocco junction’ on the Los Angeles Pacific railroad, a stop on the ‘Balloon’ excursion route to the Beach, to our likely future as multimodal hub for the greater Westside, we have a chance to show the larger Los Angeles-area community we’re not all about keeping good transportation options out of our backyard, as it is said. Let’s look retrospectively to our past that preceded the motor car, and then forward to a future that will certainly supplement, if not supplant, it with new mobility networks, like that for pedestrians & cyclists. Let’s make the city’s historic role as a center of Westside transportation a key part of the 100th anniversary celebration.

Tell the city that we need not be ruled by the automobile or governed by those who view life in Beverly Hills exclusively though the frame of a car windshield. Remind them that our history suggests a much more interesting story! Let’s doff the historical blinkers that keep our transit history packed away in a dusty photo archive by celebrating our multimodal mobility history as part of our centennial history in 2014.

You can let committee members know how you feel: sign up by calling (310) 285-1035 or visit the website to give your two cents. (About all it is worth to the blue ribbon committee, we bet.)

In the months approaching the anniversary celebrations, we’ll be working with our library’s archive to bring that past to life so we can ensure that multimodal mobility is part of our centennial celebration. Want to be a part of our own blue ribbon commission? Let us know. Like City Hall, we can appoint whomever we want and slap the ‘blue ribbon’ label on ‘em.