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Shakespeare Society Would Put Bard Back on the Beach : Manhattan, Hermosa Officials Not Warming Up to Name Change Idea

April 26, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK | Times Staff Writer

"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

--William Shakespeare

"Romeo and Juliet"

Names are important, however, to the Shakespeare Society of America, which wants a section of the beach straddling Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach renamed in honor of the playwright.

"I'm positive we can do this because the area needs more culture," said Thad Taylor, president of the Shakespeare Society of America, who says the one- to two-mile strip of sand once carried the writer's name.

His suggestion, however, did not get rave reviews from several city officials--except as comedy.

"It's kind of hard for me to take it seriously," said Manhattan Beach Councilman Bob Holmes.

"There's 1,001 ways we can honor one of the greatest playwrights in history," he said, adding that it would be "impractical and unrealistic" to rename the beach because it is widely known as Manhattan Beach.

Manhattan Beach Councilman Larry Dougharty said--after he stopped laughing--that he would keep an open mind.

He called a reporter less than two minutes later to say: "I'm no longer open-minded. I've given it a lot of serious thought. If we name it Shakespeare Beach, then there's no longer a Manhattan Beach and I see that as a problem for a city that's named after her beach."

Taylor, a World War II and Korean War veteran, said he was ready to take on any opposition. "I like a good fight. I've been fighting all my life. I would like to see who would oppose something like this."

He said the name change would be morally, ethically and intellectually just, and claimed that what are now sections of each city and parts of the beaches were known as Shakespeare, Calif., and Shakespeare's Beach in the early 1900s. Taylor does not propose changing the cities' names but would like the neighborhoods known by their former designations, as Hollywood is distinguished even though it is part of Los Angeles.

He said he plans to suggest the renaming of the beach strip to the City Councils within two weeks and will start a petition drive if necessary to gain public support.

The Hermosa Beach City Council has the power to rename its beach, which is city-owned, but it would be up to state officials to rename the state-owned Manhattan State Beach.

One Hermosa Beach employee, who did not want to be identified, opposes the name change.

"They want to rename our beach? What's the matter with the name now?" she asked. "Well, my personal reaction is, that's our beach. The city owns that beach. We're one of the few cities in the state that has their own beach.

"I'm shocked that they would want to do that. I rather like our beach the way it is and who are they anyway? They don't live here, they don't use our beach, they don't maintain it."

The Shakespeare Society is based in West Hollywood and has about 1,500 members, including a dozen in the two beach cities, said Taylor, a Hollywood resident.

Manhattan Beach Mayor Jan Dennis, who also is historian of the city's Historical Society and has written a book about her city that will be published this summer, said that the 200 acres that was once Shakespeare's Beach is now north Hermosa Beach and little if any of Shakespeare's Beach is now part of Manhattan Beach.

In 1903, Moses Sherman and Eli Clark, who built the Pacific Electric Railway along the beach at the turn of the century, tried--unsuccessfully--to establish a literary colony in the area, which they named Shakespeare's Beach, Dennis said.

When Sherman and Clark gave up trying to make the literary colony successful, they developed the area with beach cottages, Dennis said. "It was a development; it wasn't a town or anything else," she said.

"Manhattan Beach was not Shakespeare's Beach, so it wouldn't make any sense to rename a beach here," said Manhattan Beach Mayor Dennis. "They'd have to rename Hermosa, not us."

But Taylor said he has an old map that reads: "Map of Shakespeare, being a portion of Hermosa Beach, Shakespeare's Beach and Manhattan Beach."

He said he got the map about two years ago from a man with whom he worked on a play. He said the man, whose name he could not remember, found the map among Los Angeles County records that he was clearing out.

Name Still on Books

Hermosa Beach Building Director Bill Grove said the legal descriptions of properties in north Hermosa Beach are still listed with Shakespeare or Shakespeare Beach designations, but people stopped calling those areas by the playwright's name long ago.

The Shakespeare's Beach tract is bordered by The Strand, Hermosa Avenue, 27th Street and the northern city boundary, Grove said. The Shakespeare's tract is bordered by Hermosa Avenue, Valley Drive, Valley Park, 26th Street and the northern city boundary, he said.

"We call it the North End of Hermosa," said Rick Learned, president of the Hermosa Beach Historical Society. "Maybe part of it could be called the Shakespeare Section . . . give it a little neighborhood identification. . . . It would be fun."

Learned was not as enthused about renaming a section of the beach, but said he would wait until he hears the proposal from the Shakespeare Society.

'I'll Consider Anything'

Hermosa Beach Councilman Tony DeBellis said he has an open mind. "I know I live in the Shakespeare tract. . . . I'll consider anything. I have to, I'm a politician . . . I don't dismiss it categorically nor do I embrace it."

Taylor said he has been wanting to propose the renaming since obtaining the old map but had not gotten around to it.

Other writers are still remembered in Hermosa Beach, Taylor points out, through streets--such as Longfellow Avenue and Tennyson Place--that were named when the literary colony was started.

"But Shakespeare," he said, "the greatest poet of all, just faded into oblivion."

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