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Paramount Erases 'Compton' Boulevard, Draws Fire

November 27, 1986|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

PARAMOUNT — What's in a name? Or a name change?

Everything, according to city leaders who want to create a shiny new image for this community of 40,000, which was labeled one of the nation's suburban disaster areas in a widely publicized report four years ago.

As part of an all-out marketing effort to attract middle-income families--but "not quite the Yuppie set"--the city fathers have changed the name of a major thoroughfare.

With a 4-1 City Council vote earlier this month, the two-mile stretch of Compton Boulevard that runs through Paramount became Somerset Boulevard.

Change Called Racist

While officials in the neighboring city of Compton have called the name change silly at best and racist at worst, Paramount's leaders say the new name goes with a new image that they hope will make their long-troubled city a better place to live in.

"Paramount has had a negative image--a place where drugs are sold, a cow town. We're trying to change that," Councilman Charles R. Weldon said.

In the next few years, housing developers could invest more than $200 million in Paramount, said Richard R. Powers, director of community development. Some of those developers advised the city that Somerset Boulevard had more sales pizazz than Compton Boulevard.

To rename a street in an urban area in connection with a planned community is "a new twist," said Richard A. Hollingsworth, representative for Kaufman & Broad Land Co., the Los Angeles developer that will build $14 million worth of single-family housing there beginning in early 1987.

No Yuppie Appeal

"Usually a master-planned community is in a new, undeveloped area, a new community and the streets are new. What we have in Paramount is a new urban village," said Hollingsworth, who said he believes that the new community will draw "not quite the Yuppie set." Instead, Hollingsworth sees the average home buyers being middle-class families with a couple of children and a $30,000 annual income who are probably buying a home for the first time.

The mayor of Compton is not impressed.

"It's silly. It's minor. If they want to change the name, it's their prerogative," Mayor Walter Tucker said of Paramount's decision to change Compton Boulevard to Somerset Boulevard.

But Tucker also said he thought the action was racist and indicated that Paramount wants to disassociate itself from predominantly black Compton.

Racist Motives Denied

Officials in Paramount--where nearly half the population is Latino and about 6% is black--denied racist motives, or even that the city of Compton had anything to do with the advent of Somerset Boulevard.

"It has nothing to do with Compton," Powers said. "It has everything to do with the needs of Paramount."

"Developers are saying we don't have any identification. We are sort of going along with them. They say it will help them sell houses," Paramount Mayor Gerald Mulrooney said.

But most of the business owners and residents who wrote to the Planning Commission in support of Somerset Boulevard said they saw the name change as a way of disassociating Paramount from Compton.

A Poor Image

"The word 'Compton' does not paint a picture of a first-class residential community since the area is too well known for the slums and strife that existed there for the last 20 or so years," Dewain R. Butler wrote to the city. Butler is owner of Alondra Racquet Courts on Alondra Boulevard in Paramount and a limited partner in one of the developments.

Another letter writer supporting the change was Chuck Lyons, who is the co-owner of Lyons and Lyons Properties on Compton Boulevard.

Chuck Lyons said in an interview: "Its good for the area. We are supporting it because they have a number of problems across the freeway (in Compton)."

Those letters just reaffirm what other Compton officials suspect.

"They are trying to disconnect themselves from Compton but it's nothing new," Councilman Maxcy D. Filer said. "Whatever reason they have, it is a flimsy one."

Compton Councilwoman Jane Robbins said there was a Compton Boulevard before there was a city of Paramount. "I hate to see them do this," she said. "If Paramount is changing the name, Bellflower can't be far behind." (Bellflower officials said they have no plans to change the name of Compton Boulevard where it runs through their city.)

'City Is a Snob'

Not everyone in Paramount is happy about the change, either.

"That's stupid. The city is a snob. It's like an ugly woman putting on makeup when she really needs plastic surgery," said Daisy Majak, a Paramount resident who lives a couple of blocks from Compton Boulevard.

"I think the city should concentrate on cleaning up the deteriorating neighborhoods and stop listening to a bunch of developers," said Majak, a longtime activist and critic of Paramount administration.

Luis Sanchez, owner of Paramount Bakery on Compton Boulevard, said he is against the change because it will cost him money.

Change Stationery

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