Even before the revolution, a few Iranian Jews had already decamped to California. Jimmy Delshad, who made local history in 2007 by becoming the first Iranian-American mayor of Beverly Hills, left modest origins in Shiraz in 1959 and attended California State University at Northridge with his brothers. “I don’t think there were more than 10 or 12 [Persian] families we knew in Los Angeles,” he says.
The present-day elite Persian community in Beverly Hills, though, really got its start in the early Seventies, when four brothers of the Mahboubi clan—who had grown rich at home from their virtual monopoly on chewing gum—moved to Los Angeles and sank their money into real estate on Rodeo Drive. One of the brothers, Dar Mahboubi, backed haberdasher Bijan during the Eighties, and younger Mahboubis continue to manage the family’s considerable property holdings. Another group of brothers, the Yadegars, also arrived in Beverly Hills before the revolution and began snapping up real estate. Today so many Persians own stakes in Beverly Hills’ Golden Triangle, the prime streets between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, that the area is known to some as “Tehrangeles.” (Another Persian shopping district in Westwood has also earned that moniker.)
The area’s attractions were obvious: Beverly Hills was synonymous with wealth and status, plus it delivered a beautiful climate, safe residential neighborhoods and a well-established Jewish community. But perhaps the key asset was the then top-notch school system. Sam Nazarian’s sister-in-law, former psychology professor Angella Nazarian, recalls that her father bought a house here in the early Seventies so her brother could attend Beverly Hills High School. “My father had no plans of coming to the U.S.,” she says over a lunch of tuna tartare in Westwood. “It was more ‘This way my son can go to a really good school.’”
Later in the decade, as Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers denounced the freedoms that had enabled Jewish prosperity, some in Tehran began to worry, says prominent hostess Mahroo Moghavem, whose husband was a successful appliance distributor at that time. “We thought investment in other countries would be good,” she says during a brunch with friends at her home in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. “We were happy, but we thought that one day the Shah would pass away and what would happen then?”
As armed students took to the streets of Tehran in late 1978, the Moghavems whisked their children off to Los Angeles for a vacation. Events unfolding on television made clear that they would not be returning home. The Moghavems were among the lucky ones, however. Thanks to their investments outside of Iran, they were able to buy a house in Beverly Hills from billionaire John Kluge and then sink money into a development project parceling the estate of silent-screen star Harold Lloyd into a 16-home subdivision.