A different all-American motto, however, has been fully embraced by the Nazarians and many other Persian families who have earned fortunes here: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Parviz became famous in his community—and notorious in Beverly Hills—for building a mansion that exemplifies an architectural style known in these parts as Persian Palace. From the street, the Nazarian pile looks like a particularly frothy wedding cake propped up by a forest of fluted columns. The interior, according to visitors, is an extravaganza of polished marble, sweeping staircases and gilt rococo furniture, a nominally French style favored by Iran’s late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. (A famous story recalls Bill Clinton’s visit to the Nazarian home for a fundraiser: He supposedly remarked, “This makes me realize I really do live in government housing.”)
Today many younger members of the Persian community favor a less ornate style and in this—as well as in many more-important matters—they represent a generational pivot between the Persian Jewish community’s past in Tehran and its future in Los Angeles. Thirty-six-year-old Natasha Baradaran, an L.A.-born and -bred interior designer whose husband, Bob, is the only Persian partner at white-shoe law firm Greenberg Glusker, is a prime example. “Especially for women, the revolution was the best thing that could have happened,” says Natasha, who earned a master’s degree in international relations at Columbia University before choosing a more creative career path. “It was hard for a lot of people who lost everything. But their kids—we learned that the sky is the limit.” Less insular and more civic-minded than their elders, these young parents, professionals and entrepreneurs represent some of America’s wealthiest and most educated immigrant offspring. The time has clearly come—as politicians, savvy businesspeople and charity fundraisers have realized—to meet the neighbors in Beverly Hills.
In his office above Wilshire Boulevard, architect Hamid Gabbay, 66, traces the dazzling success of the Persian community in Beverly Hills back to Tehran before the revolution. The Sixties and Seventies saw a full-tilt economic expansion, fueled by the Shah’s dream of westernization and financed by vast oil reserves. “The real-estate boom was incredible,” explains Gabbay, who founded an architecture firm with his brother in Tehran. “We got to design a city—projects I can’t even dream of now.”
The country’s Jewish minority thrived, at least in Tehran’s educated quarters, thanks to the Shah’s official policy of religious tolerance and cultural openness. But radical Muslim clerics gained strength during the late Seventies, and in January 1979 they overthrew the ailing monarch. Gabbay left in November 1978, landing a job with an L.A. firm that he had been interviewing to work for him just four months earlier. “I went to the firm,” he recalls, “and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t hire you. But would you hire me?’”