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					            From left: Alex Halimi,
W Feature   Amanda Maddahi, Adam
            Daneshgar, Lillian Emrani,
            Sabrina Yadegar, Jessica
            Yadegar, Gabriel Halimi,
            Jessica Kimiabakhsh, Sharon
            Newman, Lauren Maddahi
            and Soshi Azadian at
            Sam Nazarian’s SLS Hotel




            Three decades ago, in The wake of The islamic revoluTion, enTire neighborhoods of Tehran’s moneyed
            Jewish communiTy fled To los angeles. now, having amassed american-sTyle forTunes and poliTical clouT,
            The persians of beverly hills are living The ulTimaTe california dream.
            By kevin            west      PhotograPhed by larry sultan
                                                                                                                     j u l y   2 0 0 9   W | 81
     “it was hard for a Lot of PeoPLe who Lost                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This page: Natasha
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 and Bob Baradaran

   everything [in the revoLution]. but their kids—                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               with daughters
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Isabella, seven

        we Learned that the sky is the Limit.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   (at left), and Olivia,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 three, at home.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Opposite: Books and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 curios in Mahroo
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Moghavem’s house.




the interior decor of sam nazarian’s $18.9 million mansion high                 of his assets behind, arriving at a run-down hotel in Santa Monica with,        for a fundraiser: He supposedly remarked, “This makes me realize I really         The country’s Jewish minority thrived, at least in Tehran’s educated
above the Sunset Strip might be described as nightlife moderne. Glossy          as Younes recalls, “four suitcases and four children.” (The Nazarians are       do live in government housing.”)                                              quarters, thanks to the Shah’s official policy of religious tolerance and cul-
stone floors and glass walls are set off by glam touches like a Roy Lichten-    now part owners of the hotel.)                                                      Today many younger members of the Persian community favor a less          tural openness. But radical Muslim clerics gained strength during the late
stein print—This Must Be the Place, cheekily hung in the bathroom—and               Younes and his brother, Parviz, relied on contacts with other Persian       ornate style and in this—as well as in many more-important matters—           Seventies, and in January 1979 they overthrew the ailing monarch. Gabbay
a black crystal chandelier. But what’s inside the Nazarian house is second-     Jewish immigrants—“Our best asset in this country was our few friends,” he      they represent a generational pivot between the Persian Jewish com-           left in November 1978, landing a job with an L.A. firm that he had been
ary to the view: the city of Los Angeles spread like a vast Persian carpet      notes—and established a factory building machine parts for such clients as      munity’s past in Tehran and its future in Los Angeles. Thirty-six-year-old    interviewing to work for him just four months earlier. “I went to the firm,”
laid at Nazarian’s feet. It is, in more ways than one, a view from the top.     the Department of Defense. Several years later, the brothers were brought       Natasha Baradaran, an L.A.-born and -bred interior designer whose hus-        he recalls, “and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t hire you. But would you hire me?’”
    These days Nazarian hardly needs an introduction in Hollywood and           into a fledgling telecom company, Qualcomm, and their millions ballooned        band, Bob, is the only Persian partner at white-shoe law firm Greenberg           Even before the revolution, a few Iranian Jews had already decamped
Beverly Hills: At 33, he has built an empire that includes trendy nightclubs,   into billions. Now Younes, like his son, is leaving footprints all over Los     Glusker, is a prime example. “Especially for women, the revolution was        to California. Jimmy Delshad, who made local history in 2007 by becom-
an archipelago of restaurants and the flashy SLS Hotel, with further hotels     Angeles: He is chairman of his son’s business, SBE, and he serves on boards     the best thing that could have happened,” says Natasha, who earned a          ing the first Iranian-American mayor of Beverly Hills, left modest origins
planned for Miami and Las Vegas. His circle, however, extends well              at the Rand Center for Middle East Public Policy and the Los Angeles Phil-      master’s degree in international relations at Columbia University before      in Shiraz in 1959 and attended California State University at Northridge
beyond the celebutantes courted by his businesses. Nazarian and his             harmonic, in addition to being a major donor to the University of Southern      choosing a more creative career path. “It was hard for a lot of people who    with his brothers. “I don’t think there were more than 10 or 12 [Persian]
family, who like many Iranian Jews left Tehran during the 1979 revolution,      California. This philanthropic spirit makes Younes something of a pioneer,      lost everything. But their kids—we learned that the sky is the limit.” Less   families we knew in Los Angeles,” he says.
are leaders of a powerful Persian Jewish elite in Beverly Hills. One hint of    notes Sam, since the older generation by and large has not adopted the          insular and more civic-minded than their elders, these young parents,             The present-day elite Persian community in Beverly Hills, though,
the community’s influence in Los Angeles is a framed commendation on            American ethic—and tax strategy—of giving money to nonprofits.                  professionals and entrepreneurs represent some of America’s wealthiest        really got its start in the early Seventies, when four brothers of the Mah-
Nazarian’s sitting room wall from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “I was one            A different all-American motto, however, has been fully embraced by         and most educated immigrant offspring. The time has clearly come—as           boubi clan—who had grown rich at home from their virtual monopoly on
of his first supporters,” explains Nazarian. “We’re very, very close.”          the Nazarians and many other Persian families who have earned fortunes          politicians, savvy businesspeople and charity fundraisers have realized—      chewing gum—moved to Los Angeles and sank their money into real estate
    Not so many years ago, Nazarian, whose family arrived in the U.S.           here: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Parviz became famous in his community—       to meet the neighbors in Beverly Hills.                                       on Rodeo Drive. One of the brothers, Dar Mahboubi, backed haberdasher
when he was three, was taunted at Beverly Hills High School with insults        and notorious in Beverly Hills—for building a mansion that exemplifies an           In his office above Wilshire Boulevard, architect Hamid Gabbay, 66,       Bijan during the Eighties, and younger Mahboubis continue to manage
such as “camel jockey.” “It wasn’t a very welcoming group of people,” he        architectural style known in these parts as Persian Palace. From the street,    traces the dazzling success of the Persian community in Beverly Hills         the family’s considerable property holdings. Another group of brothers,
recalls of his schoolmates. Nazarian’s courtly 78-year-old father, Younes,      the Nazarian pile looks like a particularly frothy wedding cake propped up      back to Tehran before the revolution. The Sixties and Seventies saw a full-   the Yadegars, also arrived in Beverly Hills before the revolution and began
who today sits alongside his youngest son at a table laden with crystal         by a forest of fluted columns. The interior, according to visitors, is an ex-   tilt economic expansion, fueled by the Shah’s dream of westernization         snapping up real estate. Today so many Persians own stakes in Beverly Hills’
bowls of dates, berries, cucumbers and other refreshments—a typical dis-        travaganza of polished marble, sweeping staircases and gilt rococo furni-       and financed by vast oil reserves. “The real-estate boom was incredible,”     Golden Triangle, the prime streets between Wilshire and Santa Monica
play of Persian hospitality—was a successful tool-and-dye manufacturer          ture, a nominally French style favored by Iran’s late Shah Mohammad Reza        explains Gabbay, who founded an architecture firm with his brother in         boulevards, that the area is known to some as “Tehrangeles.” (Another Per-
in Iran. But in fleeing his country’s political turmoil, he had to leave most   Pahlavi. (A famous story recalls Bill Clinton’s visit to the Nazarian home      Tehran. “We got to design a city—projects I can’t even dream of now.”         sian shopping district in Westwood has also earned that moniker.)


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                                                                                                         Sam Nazarian with his
                                                                                                         father, Younes, at home




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“it wasn’t a very weLcoming grouP of PeoPLe,”                 sam nazarian recaLLs of his schooLmates.
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            m l y t h02 0 0 9
This page: a Philippe Starck
lamp in Sam Nazarian’s home.
Opposite: designer-builder
Hamid Omrani in front of one
of the Persian Palaces he
designed in Beverly Hills.




            “if you’ve got it, fLaunt it” is one aLL-american
              motto that Persians in L.a. fuLLy embraced.

             The area’s attractions were obvious: Beverly Hills was synonymous          to Beverly Hills in the coming years had assets most immigrants lack:           some of the toughest votes to get were Persian: Iranian Jews had no expe-            And then there was the question of taste. Some Persians celebrated the
         with wealth and status, plus it delivered a beautiful climate, safe residen-   advanced education, business experience and, in the majority of cases,          rience voting under the Shah and were wary of joining any bureaucratic           joys of American self-expression with an exuberance that was considered
         tial neighborhoods and a well-established Jewish community. But per-           some cash in overseas accounts. Iranian Jews also landed in Israel and          roster, even the Beverly Hills voting rolls. Delshad nonetheless prevailed       jarring. Fifty-year-old Fariborz David Diaan, who was born in Tehran and
         haps the key asset was the then top-notch school system. Sam Nazarian’s        New York, and it’s worth noting that the mass flight away from theocracy        and in 2007 was elected mayor, despite a major kerfuffle over municipal          studied journalism at the University of Missouri before moving to Los
         sister-in-law, former psychology professor Angella Nazarian, recalls that      included Muslims and members of other religious minorities. But entire          election ballots printed in English, Spanish and, for the first time, sinuous    Angeles in 1981 to pursue work in the entertainment industry, admits that
         her father bought a house here in the early Seventies so her brother could     neighborhoods of Tehran’s Jewish elite settled in Beverly Hills—some-           Farsi script. “I had nothing to do with that,” Delshad insists. (Federal law     he, too, was amazed by the sight of Persian money run amok. “There was
         attend Beverly Hills High School. “My father had no plans of coming to         thing like a wholesale transplant of a social community. Initially the shell-   does require that non-English-speaking voting blocs be provided with             a time right after the revolution when my friends in Beverly Hills would
         the U.S.,” she says over a lunch of tuna tartare in Westwood. “It was more     shocked refugees found solace in local synagogues, where older members          ballots in their own language.) “But the way they did it was to put the Per-     race up and down the streets to compare the Porsche Turbo with the Fer-
         ‘This way my son can go to a really good school.’”                             remembered the influx from Europe after World War II and welcomed               sian bigger than the English,” he says. “It looked like a Farsi restaurant       rari,” recalls Diaan. “‘Mine is faster than yours.’”
             Later in the decade, as Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers denounced the       them. Sympathies grew strained, however, by the differences in language         menu. Hundreds of people called the city to object.”                                 Diaan eventually spun creative gold from such excesses with his play
         freedoms that had enabled Jewish prosperity, some in Tehran began to           and custom between the Ashkenazi Jewish community and the Sephardic                 The outcry over the ballot—which made the front page of The Wall             Blind Date, which became a hit when it debuted at L.A.’s El Rey Theatre
         worry, says prominent hostess Mahroo Moghavem, whose husband was               newcomers. By American standards, Persian decorum at synagogue was              Street Journal—was an eruption of tensions that had been simmering for           in 1996. The story follows a young man who borrows a friend’s Ferrari so
         a successful appliance distributor at that time. “We thought investment in     freewheeling, even disruptive, as family members rose to greet one an-          decades. A complaint sounded by Beverly Hills old-timers was that the Per-       he can pretend to be rich to impress his date, a girl who in turn pretends
         other countries would be good,” she says during a brunch with friends at her   other and chat during services. In addition, says Delshad, Persians didn’t      sians could be clannish, self-segregating and indifferent to the established     to be a virgin despite having a boyfriend. True love nonetheless blos-
         home in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. “We were happy, but we thought       understand that American-style membership in a prestigious synagogue            norms of the community they were entering. There is some truth to that           soms, and the couple are married in the second act by a rabbi who loudly
         that one day the Shah would pass away and what would happen then?”             like Sinai Temple meant paying annual dues and getting involved with            charge, acknowledges Angella Nazarian. Thanks to their wealth and num-           appraises the value of her ring to the exact dollar. The groom vows to
             As armed students took to the streets of Tehran in late 1978, the          fundraising. “The other members looked at them as freeloaders coming            bers, Persians didn’t need to adapt. Instead, they developed a self-sufficient   buy his bride a condo “on at least the 10th floor or above with views of
         Moghavems whisked their children off to Los Angeles for a vacation.            and taking but never contributing,” he explains.                                Farsi-speaking enclave, complete with grocery stores, restaurants and even       the city,” and she vows to deliver a child “within the next nine months,
         Events unfolding on television made clear that they would not be return-          Delshad proved to be a major force in bridging these antipathies             taxi services. And rather than courting the local social establishment, rich     preferably a boy.”
         ing home. The Moghavems were among the lucky ones, however. Thanks             when, after 12 years of campaigning, he was elected in 1999 as Sinai’s first    Persians stuck to their own social world, which revolved around lavish               “Hardly anyone was offended,” says Diaan. “Everyone thought that
         to their investments outside of Iran, they were able to buy a house in         Sephardic president. He insists that tensions have since eased and notes        1,000-person bar mitzvahs and weddings. “My mother really doesn’t need           the joke was about someone else. But it was about almost everyone.”
         Beverly Hills from billionaire John Kluge and then sink money into a           that Persians today account for approximately 25 percent of membership.         to speak English, although she does,” says Nazarian. “Cultural preservation          Outsiders were less amused by such extravagance, and quarrels
         development project parceling the estate of silent-screen star Harold          (They constitute 20 percent of the overall population of Beverly Hills.)        is one part of the experience of being displaced, and as with any immigrant      erupted over the most visible Persian status symbols, their homes. Parviz
         Lloyd into a 16-home subdivision.                                                 In 2003 Delshad took a leave from the technology company he started          community, we naturally want to associate with one another. Middle East-         Nazarian’s house spawned a thousand imitations, and today nearly
             Although dispossessed, the thousands of Iranian Jews who flocked           in 1978 to run for the Beverly Hills City Council. Ironically, he recalls,      ern countries also tend to be very tribal.”                                      every street on the flats of Beverly Hills has at least one “palace.” Some


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                                                                                                 From left: Janet Yonaty, Kayvan
                                                                                                 Ghaseimi, Lila Barkhordarian,
                                                                                                 Rebecca Daroubaksh, Guitty
                                                                                                 Hakin, Jacqueline Moradi, Mahroo
                                                                                                 Moghavem, Sharen Moghavem
                                                                                                 and Julie Broukhim at the home
                                                                                                 of Mahroo Moghavem

“as with any immigrant community, we naturaLLy want            to associate with one another.”




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This page: Sam Nazarian’s
$1.6 million Bugatti veyron in
his garage. Opposite: Mahroo
Moghavem in her dining room.




                                                                                                                                                                                   PooL Party, NazariaN faMiLy aNd MogHaveM BruNcH: Hair aNd MakeuP By caMiLLe cLark for cLoutierageNcy.coM
       200 of them were designed by builder Hamid Omrani. “When I came to                     daughters—both of whom still live at home—eventually will. “All I want for
       Beverly Hills, there was not any architecture,” says Omrani. “There were               them is to be happy and find people with the same background.”
       old houses belonging to the World War I or World War II era. These were                    “For me,” says daughter Sabrina, an aspiring fashion designer, “I think it’s a
       not buildings that had good material or good architecture. So I said, ‘Why             lot easier to fall in love with someone who has the same ideas and experiences.”
       should I match with them?’”                                                                “I need to love their family, and they need to love mine,” adds older sis-
           Public discontent with the number and scale of mansions came to a head             ter Jessica, a documentary filmmaker. “Some of my American friends have
       in 2004, when the Beverly Hills City Council established a commission                  told me that you’re not dating the parents. They say you don’t need to meet
       with the right to veto any building plan deemed out of place in the neighbor-          the parents on the first, second or third date. That’s not my view. I think the
       hood. Omrani believes, with some justification, no doubt, that the issue was           longer you postpone the introduction to the family, the longer it takes you to
       just thinly veiled prejudice. However, a driving force on the commission was           get to know if this is someone you want to spend the rest of your life with.”
       Gabbay, whose own work is more understated and who takes exception to                      Among much older women, the Iranian custom of the doreh—a semifor-
       the name Persian Palace because, he says, the style “has nothing to do with            mal circle of women who meet to eat home-cooked Persian fare, play cards
       Persian architecture. I never saw anything like it in Tehran.”                         and gossip in Farsi—has also proved resilient enough to make it to the 21st
           Though Omrani still seems to resent the design commission—“If I                    century. But whether the tradition survives two generations in America is
       wanted to follow what they said, then I could be in Iran and the mullahs               an open question as women’s roles change. “The younger generation works
       could tell me what to do,” he says—he admits that his younger Persian                  more,” says grandmother Jacqueline Moradi during the brunch gathering at
       clients have less ostentatious taste. He boasts of having just completed a             Moghavem’s house. “In our generation in Iran, that was unheard of.”
       resolutely contemporary house in Santa Monica for one couple.                              The Baradarans represent this new face of the Persian upper-middle
           Generational shift, slow though it may be, has pushed the Persian commu-           class. Natasha, who has a busy career, doesn’t attend a doreh, and Bob
       nity toward the American mainstream—or at least the Beverly Hills version              shares the job of raising their two young daughters. The Baradarans’ circle
       of it. Still, the community clings tightly to its core values of respect for family,   not only includes Persian friends but also his colleagues, her clients and
       faith, education and success, and some age-old customs remain. Friday-night            other parents from the girls’ prestigious private schools. “I am raising kids
       Shabbat dinners are sacrosanct, and the meal can easily include 60 people.             in a city in which I was raised,” says Natasha. “This is my home. I don’t feel
       (Persians often cite such gatherings as a reason they need large houses.) Like-        like a transplant.” And why should she? After 30 years in Beverly Hills, few,
       wise, a majority in the younger generation choose to marry fellow Persians—
       much to their parents’ relief. “They don’t have to marry Persian,” says Jas-
                                                                                              if any, Persians still hope to return to Tehran. “It’s a reality,” says Gabbay of
                                                                                              his community’s new life in California, as he gazes out his office window at                                                                                                                    “i am raising kids in a city in which i was raised.
       mine Yadegar, in a tone suggesting that she hopes her two twentysomething              the Golden Triangle. “We are a reality.”   •                                                                                                                                                     this is my home. i don’t feeL Like a transPLant.”
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