And then there was the question of taste. Some Persians celebrated the joys of American self-expression with an exuberance that was considered jarring. Fifty-year-old Fariborz David Diaan, who was born in Tehran and studied journalism at the University of Missouri before moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to pursue work in the entertainment industry, admits that he, too, was amazed by the sight of Persian money run amok. “There was a time right after the revolution when my friends in Beverly Hills would race up and down the streets to compare the Porsche Turbo with the Ferrari,” recalls Diaan. “‘Mine is faster than yours.’”
Diaan eventually spun creative gold from such excesses with his play Blind Date, which became a hit when it debuted at L.A.’s El Rey Theatre in 1996. The story follows a young man who borrows a friend’s Ferrari so he can pretend to be rich to impress his date, a girl who in turn pretends to be a virgin despite having a boyfriend. True love nonetheless blossoms, and the couple are married in the second act by a rabbi who loudly appraises the value of her ring to the exact dollar. The groom vows to buy his bride a condo “on at least the 10th floor or above with views of the city,” and she vows to deliver a child “within the next nine months, preferably a boy.”
“Hardly anyone was offended,” says Diaan. “Everyone thought that the joke was about someone else. But it was about almost everyone.”
Outsiders were less amused by such extravagance, and quarrels erupted over the most visible Persian status symbols, their homes. Parviz Nazarian’s house spawned a thousand imitations, and today nearly every street on the flats of Beverly Hills has at least one “palace.” Some 200 of them were designed by builder Hamid Omrani. “When I came to Beverly Hills, there was not any architecture,” says Omrani. “There were old houses belonging to the World War I or World War II era. These were not buildings that had good material or good architecture. So I said, ‘Why should I match with them?’”
Public discontent with the number and scale of mansions came to a head in 2004, when the Beverly Hills City Council established a commission with the right to veto any building plan deemed out of place in the neighborhood. Omrani believes, with some justification, no doubt, that the issue was just thinly veiled prejudice. However, a driving force on the commission was Gabbay, whose own work is more understated and who takes exception to the name Persian Palace because, he says, the style “has nothing to do with Persian architecture. I never saw anything like it in Tehran.”
Though Omrani still seems to resent the design commission—“If I wanted to follow what they said, then I could be in Iran and the mullahs could tell me what to do,” he says—even he admits that his younger Persian clients have less ostentatious taste. He boasts of having just completed a resolutely contemporary house in Santa Monica for one couple.