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Beverly Hills honors its century and its centenarians

Mary Goldberg, who will turn 106 next month, likes to sing "God Bless America" for any occasion.

"I sing. I sing. Now I'll sing for you," she said in a tone that brooked no dissent as she waited Tuesday afternoon outside the Beverly Hills council chambers, where she was about to be honored as one of the 100-year-old city's centenarians.

Then Goldberg was belting it out, loudly enough to turn heads.

She sat in a wine-red wheelchair, her hair snow white, her nails hot pink. She had on pearls and a snazzy satin-shawl-collared suit — the same one, her daughter Phyllis Glick pointed out, that she'd worn way back when she turned 100.

Beverly Hills, incorporated Jan. 28, 1914, doesn't hit that milestone for another week. The centenarian celebration was one of the first in a rolling, yearlong birthday party. Before giving their guests of honor centennial pins and certificates, the elected representatives spoke of residents who predated their city.

Not that Goldberg or the three other centenarians had lived within the current city limits quite that long, or felt obliged to stick to that particular civic theme.

Asked about the Beverly Hills she encountered as a child, Goldberg waved one pink-nailed hand and said, "I don't know. What difference does it make? I'm living. I'm living. I'm living."

Why focus, after all, on one place, one experience? Why not soak up the sweep of a long life?

Goldberg, who was born in England, came to America by boat as a baby. Chicago was home until she was 9. And when she came west, Beverly Hills wasn't her first stop.

Said her daughter: "I mean, she's seen everything. Horse and buggy. She saw the people delivering ice on their backs … man on the moon, cars, airplanes."

Elly Newton, the spring chicken of the group, turned 100 on Jan. 14. She was 24 when she left her first home, Berlin, for Los Angeles in 1938 to escape the Holocaust. Her brother found a home in Australia. Their parents did not survive.

In the council chamber, when handed a microphone, that is the part of her life she chose to speak of:

"I'm very grateful to be in the United States," she said. "Unfortunately, my parents didn't make it to this country."

Walter J. Freedman, who turned 100 in April, spent much of his lifetime in Chicago, where he taught band and orchestra in the schools. He came to Tuesday's ceremony with his son, grandson and great-grandson, 3-year-old Brent.

"I'm very happy to be here. Oh, I'm so happy with my family," he told those who had gathered. "This is quite an honor to be recognized among the hierarchy of people in the world. Amen. Amen. Amen."

When the officials' speechifying began, Charlotte Rubin, dressed in a turquoise track suit and sneakers, didn't immediately notice. The 104-year-old blamed it on being hard of hearing and mostly blind — although really she was busy assessing her surroundings.

"What I'd like to know is where the Beverly Hills community got the money to buy this rug. It's pretty fancy," she said, looking down at the scrolls of gold on maroon beneath her wheelchair.

Rubin was born in Las Vegas, N.M., before New Mexico was a state. She first saw Beverly Hills as a young child when her family moved farther west.

"There weren't any houses. There was nothing," she said. She remembers Rodeo Drive without the buildings. She remembers streets with barely a car.

Now, she said, her own street "is nothing but a racetrack starting about 5 o'clock in the morning."

When it was her turn with the microphone, Rubin said, "I want to say I've lived a wonderfully happy life. Fortunately for me, I've had very few blips."

As for Goldberg, she gave an amplified encore of her favorite number, for which she received a standing ovation.

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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