Across the Southland in the early 1920s, horses were vanishing from public streets, their once-essential motive power made obsolete by the internal combustion engine. Buses replaced horse-drawn omnibuses. Automobile taxis replaced horse-drawn hacks. Heavy-duty trucks replaced horse-drawn wagons.
But Beverly Hills bucked the trend.
From the early 1920s through the 1960s, pathways dedicated to horse travel ran down the center of several Beverly Hills streets. One stretched from the city's eastern to western boundary, meandering through town down the center of Sunset Boulevard. Another occupied the median of Rodeo Drive, where it replaced an abandoned Pacific Electric trolley line that once connected Santa Monica Boulevard with the Beverly Hills Hotel. Two more snaked their way up Coldwater and Benedict canyons.
Laid with decomposed granite and buffered from automobile traffic by curbs and ornamental plants, these bridle paths served several purposes. They satisfied the recreational urges of the city's many equine enthusiasts. They reinforced the image of Beverly Hills as a place of wealth and privilege. They preserved the rustic feel of a city that was fervently carving itself out of the open countryside of Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas. And lastly, though saddle horses were never as common on city streets as draft horses, they nostalgically recalled that dying breed -- the urban horse.
For a time, Beverly Hills' bridle paths teemed with horseback riders and the occasional tally-ho. A grand pageant marked the completion of the city's bridle path network on January 10, 1925. The Bridle Path Association placed signs at the paths' entrances proclaiming that they led from "Beverly Hills to the Sea and the Mountains" -- a reference to the organization's ambitious plans to lace the Santa Monica Mountains with equestrian trails.
"It is now generally recognized that the horse deserves a large place in our affections -- not alone as an instrument of healthful recreation but also because of the very great value in our economic life," wrote the Bridle Path Association's president, banker Irving Hellman, in 1924, "and in so admitting it seems but natural that we should want to make ample provision for the enjoyment of its usefulness."
The city's enthusiasm for horses soon waned, however, and eventually its bridle paths fell into disuse. Another recreational craze briefly gave the paths new life in 1938, when, in the midst of a nationwide bicycle fever, the city opened them up to bicycles -- transforming the old bridle paths into some of the region's finest cycling infrastructure. But after World War II brought an abrupt end to the nation's obsession with biking, the city slowly dismantled the aging paths. By 1965, grassy medians occupied the space where horses once trod.
Special thanks to Gail Stein of the Beverly Hills Public Library, who provided invaluable research assistance and contributed several of the images featured here.