BEVERLY — When Beverly Hills kicked off a celebration of the California city’s 100th anniversary on Sunday, Mayor Bill Scanlon of Beverly, Mass., was there as an invited guest.
Scanlon gave a speech, rode in a 1924 Ford in a parade down Rodeo Drive, and exchanged gifts with Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch.
Scanlon’s visit officially commemorated the long-held belief that the founding fathers of Beverly Hills named their new community after Beverly, Mass., because Beverly was the summer home of President William Howard Taft.
To highlight the connection, Scanlon gave Mirisch framed photographs of the two locations where Taft spent his summers in Beverly, at Lynch Park and on Parramatta Road.
There’s only one problem with all of the pomp and circumstance over the Taft/Beverly Hills story — it might not be true.
Some historians say that Beverly Hills was indeed named after Beverly, Mass., but not because of Beverly’s association with Taft.
According to Beverly Hills historian Marc Wanamaker, Beverly Hills was named by Burton Green, one of the partners in an oil company that purchased the land that would become Beverly Hills.
Wanamaker said Green grew up in Beverly Farms and used his hometown as inspiration for the name Beverly Hills.
But Green came up with the name in 1907, according to Wanamaker — a year before Taft was elected president and two years before he first set foot in Beverly on July 4, 1909.
Wanamaker said the connection to Taft does not show up in the historic record until 1911, when the Beverly Hills Hotel was being built as a way to attract people to the newly formed subdivision.
Taft had been summering in Beverly for three years by then, and Wanamaker said promoters of the new hotel probably invented the story about the Beverly Hills/Beverly, Mass./Taft connection as a way to drum up publicity.
Beverly Hills was incorporated as a city in January 1914, which is why the centennial celebration is now going on.
Scanlon said the Taft story came from the organizers of the Beverly Hills centennial, who mentioned it in their email inviting him to attend last Sunday’s ceremonies.
“They absolutely believe it,” Scanlon said. “Their story is they wanted Beverly Hills to become the permanent summer White House. They were jealous of Beverly, Massachusetts, being the summer White House.”
Others have cast doubt on whether Beverly was the inspiration for the Beverly Hills name at all.
In his 2011 book “Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles,” best-selling author Michael Gross wrote that the Beverly Hills/Beverly, Mass. connection “appears apocryphal.”
Gross wrote that Lee Whittier, a son of one of Beverly Hills’ other founding fathers, Max Whittier, told a family employee years later that the Beverly Hills name was borrowed from “something in Florida.”
There is also a Beverly Hills, Fla., but Gross said there’s no evidence that town was the source of the name, either. The real origin, he wrote, “will probably never be known.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.