George W. Elkins, a veteran realtor with a passion for horses, remembers galloping his steed along Rodeo Drive, enjoying a canter on a dusty bridle trail called Sunset Boulevard and renting horses at the Bel Air Stables, site of the present Bel-Air Hotel.
That was about 60 years ago.
Elkins' name has since become synonymous with Beverly Hills real estate and a wide spectrum of related services. The attractive office building that bears his name at the corner of Canon Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard is in the heart of Beverly Hills' "gold country".
Over the years, Elkins has owned, traded and sold so much property that it would be hard to place a dollar value on the acreage he has handled.
Elkins came for a visit to California in 1922 at the urging of his mother, whose letters praised the cool comfort of the Los Angeles basin.
"She urged me to leave the oilfields of New Mexico where I worked under a blistering sun, and to come for a visit to the Golden West," he recalls. "I'm still here."
Elkins has seen a great many changes since those early days when he began selling real estate for the firm of Pabst & Keith. "By 1923 I owned my own company," Elkins said.
"By 1925, Beverly Hills was moving to the forefront as an affluent suburb and Mary Pickford, Tom Mix, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin were already owners of magnificient estates. Even Valentino was one of my prospects but I never sold him a house," Elkins recalled. His long-standing connection with film personalities continues to this day.
In the early 1920s, half-acre residential lots north of Santa Monica Boulevard were selling for $4,000 and $6,000. Today, they are valued in excess of $200,000.
"The real low point in property values, however, was in the late 1930s and early 1940s," Elkins remembers.
He and a friend had purchased a commercial property in the 100 block of Beverly Drive, south of Wilshire Boulevard for $13,000 in 1941. In the early 1970s, they turned down an offer of $250,000 for the property.
Elkins pioneered the commercial growth of Beverly Hills, bringing the major retailers to Wilshire Boulevard. E. L. Cord, manufacturer of the Auburn, Deusenberg and Cord automobiles, sold Elkins two blocks of Wilshire Boulevard frontage that included the site now occupied by Gump's. He persuaded Adam Gimbel to open a Saks Fifth Avenue store at 9600 Wilshire Blvd. in 1938, and was instrumental in getting other major retailers to move to the area.
At 85, Elkins delights in telling people he really didn't come out to California to stay. Still chuckling, he adds, "I still tell people I'm only a visitor here."