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Rodeo Drive - A Journey Back In Time

Say the two magical words, “Rodeo Drive,” nowadays, and what comes to mind? Most likely, images of tall palm trees paralleling high-end boutiques, rays of sunlight reflecting off the bumpers of luxury cars, and people meandering about with handfuls of designer shopping bags. It is not long ago that Rodeo Drive, along with Beverly Hills, was once quite different from its glamourous reputation. In fact, Rodeo Drive’s beginnings are established on humble grounds. 

The first Europeans known to arrive in the area came as part of the Portolà Expedition in 1769, headed by Don José Gaspar de Portolà, the first governor of provincial California. The expedition traversed through Indian territory, from present-day Wilshire Boulevard to present day La Cienega Park, named for a large swamp, “ciénega,” in Spanish. The Tongva (“Gabrieleño”) people who lived in this area considered it to be a holy site due to its precious commodities of water and abundant food. They named the site, “El Rodeo de las Aguas,” translating in English as, “The Gathering of the Waters.” In his discovered journal, the expedition’s chaplain, Friar Juan Crespí, documented sights of “a large vineyard of wild grapes and an infinity of rose bushes.” He went on to describe, “after traveling about half a league we came to a village of this region. People came into the road, greeted us, and offered seeds.”

Beverly Hills in 1922
Beverly Hills in 2018

Following the death of her Spanish soldier husband, Afro-Latina and early California feminist icon, Doña Maria Rita Valdez de Villa, was granted the deed to the area in 1838. Here, she operated the Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas until it was sold in 1854 to Benjamin D. Wilson and Henry Hancock for $4,000. Where her adobe home once stood, now stands the Beverly Hills Hotel, about a half-mile north of the present-day Rodeo Drive shopping district. In 1961, "The Father of Rodeo Drive," Fred Hayman, opened Giorgio Beverly Hills, the street's first high-end boutique. Following suite, Aldo Gucci opened a store in 1968, catalyzing the process by which the street began to take on its present form. Subsequently, Van Cleef & Arpels opened in 1969, followed by a Vidal Sassoon salon in 1970. Memorably marking the brand’s first freestanding location, The Polo Store was established on the street in 1971. 

Sparked by the opening of a new wing of The Beverly Wilshire in 1971, Rodeo Drive transformed into an international center of fashionable shopping, according to Richard Carroll, a former co-chair of the Rodeo Drive Committee. Carroll notes that prior to this, "there was nothing at all of an international nature on the street. Rodeo was purely local in flavor." In 1976, Bijan Pakzad opened a showroom on Rodeo, which solidified "Rodeo Drive's reputation as a luxury shopping destination." Bijan touted his Rodeo Drive store as “the most expensive in the world". In 1977, The Rodeo Drive Committee launched a publicity campaign, solidifying "Rodeo Drive as the shopping street of the rich and famous." They succeeded in making Rodeo Drive an economic engine for Beverly Hills. By 1978, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce was boasting that Rodeo Drive was "the essence of the best of all the shopping centers of the world,” and by 1980, the city of Beverly Hills estimated that the Rodeo Drive shopping district accounted for as much as twenty five percent of its sales tax revenues. 

Today, Rodeo Drive’s star-studded reputation precedes her modest beginnings. Staked with over one hundred well-known storefronts in streets of elegance and opulence, both locals and tourists enjoy all there is to offer. The drive is a dynamic luxury playground, host to multiple events such as its annual Father’s Day Concours d’Elegance, showcasing the most expensive automobiles across the world, as well as ‘Fashion Night Out LA’, where the street is equipped with a Ferris Wheel amongst other attractions. Featured in numerous media outlets such as the famous 1990 film, Pretty Woman, Rodeo Drive is an iconic landmark which stands to represent Beverly Hills as well as American culture as a whole in many parts of the world. To know where one comes from is the cornerstone of knowing where one is going. For Rodeo Drive, the history of her roots serve to enamour the reputation of her glamour. We look back at her history in a celebration of progress, and we look forward to her future in confidence that if the past is anything to go by, the possibilities of her greatness remain truly unlimited.

Co-written by: Talia Mahboubi, Uria Eksztajn

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