90210: Myth and Reality

On October 11, 2009 · 4 Comments

Postal Codes in the United State known as "ZIP Codes" take on a whole variety of fascinating geographical dimensions totally unexplored thus far on the Twelve Mile Circle. I can think of no better way to start than with what is arguably the most famous ZIP Code on the planet, one known widely throughout pop culture and etched into the collective memory of a generation — 90210. This five-digit number appeared each week in the title of a highly popular television series that ran for nearly 300 episodes from 1990-2000, "Beverly Hills, 90210." Take it (my wife) or leave it (me), the show and the ZIP Code has has burrowed successfully into the social fabric for people of a certain age. Think 90210 and the average person probably doesn’t associate that number with a Post Office though.

Are Beverly Hills and 90210 actually synonymous? The actual answer contains a lot more nuance. Overlaps exist but so do variances. I’ve shaded the City of Beverly Hills in blue and cordoned the 90210 ZIP Code in a heavy black line in the mashup provided below.



View City of Beverly Hills vs. 90210 Zip Code in a larger map
SOURCES: City of Beverly Hills and ZIP Code Boundary Map.

A couple of immediate conclusions come to mind.

  1. There are people who live in the City Beverly Hills who don’t have a 90210 ZIP Code. They live in 90211 and 90212. I haven’t drawn either of those on my map but start with the residual portion of Beverly Hills and draw a line down Doheny Drive. 90211 is on the east and 90212 is on the west. While certainly friends and neighbors will associate those two zones with Beverly Hills it does lack a certain worldwide recognition that comes with 90210. That’s all right, they know differently and they have enough treasure or fame that it doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in the second point anyway, namely;
  2. There are a lot of people who reap the status of a 90210 address without actually living in Beverly Hills. I wouldn’t exactly call those canyon residents "poseurs" because those homes are impressive and expensive in their own right, but there’s no doubt they’re riding the coattails of their more famous brethren in Beverly Hills proper.

First, let’s examine some characteristics of 90210 available from the U.S. Census Bureau bearing in mind these are approximate since Census Tracts don’t correlate to ZIP Codes precisely. There were a little over 9,000 households in 90210. The median family income was about $155,000 in 1999, so it’s probably somewhat higher now ten years later. That surprised me a little. I thought it might be considerably greater. Then I considered all the gardeners, maids, cooks, chauffeurs, etc., that might live in the the servants’ quarters and gatehouses tucked away from view. This is a median figure so it tends to suppress wide variability; it would take only a single maid living on an estate to knock a mega-bazillionaire movie starlet right out of that median estimate. All the "Help" running those households also may account for the 6.1% of individuals living in 90210 below the poverty level.

Let’s also take a completely unfair and wildly unscientific look, a skewed apples-to-oranges comparison with a bizarrely small sample size and force it to comply with my hairbrained preconceptions. Why not? That’s what passes for validity these days no? Alternate theories will be gladly entertained in the comments section.

I started by attempting to find a representative home in Beverly Hills proper. Here’s one.



View Larger Map

Zillow describes this palatial estate home as an 8 bedroom, 9 bathroom behemoth with 13,913 square feet of living space. It’s a steal at $13.9 million. I hope you don’t take this singling-out personally if this is actually your home. I picked it at random. I have no idea who lives here nor do I particularly care. Chances are pretty good that you wouldn’t be hanging out here with the geo-geeks if you were living here though. Just sayin’.

As a brief aside, another misconception fell by the wayside as I wandered through satellite and Street View images. Beverly Hills is an intensely-packed neighborhood. They’re all about square footage with an obligatory swimming pool and a circular driveway jammed together like sardines.



View Larger Map

Somehow I imagined that lot sizes would be commensurate with the grandeur of the estates. Instead it looked like something more akin to a New Urbanist design book albeit with stone walls and privacy hedges. Somehow I don’t believe walkability was much of a consideration though and it might even be viewed suspiciously.

Maybe I should scale it back to something a little more reasonable, something still within 90210 but in the faux Beverly Hills. Let’s try here.



View Larger Map

This looks like a fairly typical suburban street, doesn’t it? This neighborhood could be dropped into practically any town and it wouldn’t look entirely out of place. Most of the homes here run about 3,000 square feet with 4-or-so bedrooms and are valued at about $2 million. The price per square foot is considerably less than Beverly Hills proper with a mountain view thrown in as a bonus! It’s hardly cheap by most standards but if one want the prestige of a 90210 address without the hassle of becoming a celebrity then it might be a viable option.

I’m being somewhat serious in spite of the lighthearted tone. You might want to check this 2004 article from the Los Angeles Times, "Canyon Homes and that Famous ZIP Code." The area of 90210 outside of the City of Beverly Hills actually has a name: Beverly Hills Post Office, or BHPO. They do not receive services from the City of Beverly Hills, however they benefit from the prestige of the address and resulting property values. Even so, a canyon villa was listed for sale at $798,000 at the time of this article, bringing champagne wishes and caviar dreams to a somewhat more affordable level.



View Larger Map

Finally, I couldn’t resist. I found an actual 90210 Post Office truck while sneaking around the neighborhood vicariously through Google Street View. I wonder if the prestige transfers to the postal employees who work in this ZIP Code? Does it impress other postal workers at the annual postal ball when they let everyone know they deliver to 90210? Just how far does the notoriety convey, anyway?

On October 11, 2009 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “90210: Myth and Reality”

  1. Greg says:

    How did you get the city limits and ZIP code boundaries onto a Google map? You didn’t have to click it all in by hand, did you?

    • Oh, but sadly I did, and my obsessive eye for detail didn’t allow me to take any shortcuts either. Actually it wasn’t so awful. Had it been any more than the two polygons I would have found a way collect the coordinates, convert them to XML, and create my own map using the Google Maps API. In this instance it was easier to simply use their tool although admittedly it was a bit tedious.

  2. mapfan says:

    The TV series “Beverly Hills 90210” is set at the fictional “West Beverly Hills High School” in the 90210 zip code. The true Beverly Hills High School (its only public high school) is located on Moreno Drive adjacent to Century City (a part of Los Angeles) in zip code 90212.

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