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Name Game Is Right Up Your Avenues

September 07, 1987|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

Like a name, Social Security number or pineal gland, everybody has one.

Some like theirs. Others tolerate them. Most don't give them a second thought, even though they use them, on the average, about as frequently as they floss.

There are 50,429 of them in Los Angeles County--one street name for every 130 men, women and children. This year alone there are 1,180 new titles, a sure sign of prosperity or overcrowding, whichever comes first. Last year there were only 441. Matthew Chang of Thomas Bros. Maps puzzles over the surge, guesses that it's due to "lower interest rates."

He Just Counts Them

Chang just counts 'em, lists 'em, prints 'em. He doesn't name 'em, God forbid. The developers do that, in the great majority of cases. By and large, they do a lousy job. Or a great job, if you're partial to Elm Street or Ocean Boulevard .

The names they choose are generally Pleasant , but Common . Very little Flair . Some, though, are Fantastic , even Mystic . Others--depending upon who lives thereon--could be Perfect .

How felicitous to be able to identify with one's thoroughfare: "I'm the man of La Mancha "; the "big noise from Winnetka "; "We're living on Easy Street ." To be able to say, "I have a Gettysburg address." To declare, depending on personal name: "I'm Anne of Green Gables "; "Rock of Gibraltar "; "Joan of Arco ."

Less auspicious, perhaps: "I live on Charity ," "in Traction ." More disconcerting, surely: "What street do you live on?" " Guess ."

Most streets, though, are a nice safe Maple or Marigold or Mountain View , which is understandable, if less than galvanic.

"You can't blame the developers for not going off on a tangent," says Linda Arnold. "You want to give a place a nice--or at least neutral--name to help sell the property."

Arnold is incontestably the most streetwise woman in Los Angeles. Her title is as misleading as it is cumbersome: cartographer in the Right of Way Investigations Section of the Bureau of Engineering.

In practice, she wields enormous power. If you want to name a street within the L.A. city limits (more than 10,000 at last count), your choice must be approved by Arnold. If you're stuck, Arnold will name it for you. (Beyond city limits, other communities have similar offices and procedures.)

The names must further be finalized by the City Council, but the process is pro forma . Seldom are Arnold's recommendations overruled. "Once," she confesses, "I wanted to name two streets in a tract Mork and Mindy . Only Mindy made it."

It was a rare departure. "Almost all of my--our--choices and approvals are conservative," she says. "Not by fiat. It's my nature. I tend toward indigenous flora, or terrain. Last street I named was Quiet Hills Court , up by Chatsworth. It's hilly, quiet. At least it was last time I was there."

Non-controversial flowers, trees and plants indeed make up a large percentage of names, from Acorn to Zinnia about as stimulating as cereal. A few departures, though: the fortuitous Touchwood , the poignant Two Tree Avenue , the whimsical Chocolate Lily Lane .

The likes of Hyssop and Myosotis are relatively recherche, but it took two false starts ( Chaparal and Chapparal ) before they got Chaparral to grow straight. ("Before my time," says Linda Arnold.)

Guiltless gossips in Pomona, meanwhile, can always claim, "I heard it on Grapevine ."

Fauna are rampant as well, generally native birds or fish. Still, when was the last time you saw a Gnu in the backyard, let alone an Ibex or a Mermaid ?

An Albatross Address

Albatross is a tough address to hang around the neck, though it beats Las Pulgas , in Pacific Palisades. One of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, it translates to "the fleas."

"We don't tap trees and plants for our street names," says Ira Norris, a developer for Inco Homes. "Too mundane.

"What we do is research the history of the area, try to name streets for the early families, the pioneers. If there's no history, we'll go with the terrain: Desert View , that sort of thing.

It was not always thus. "I'll never forget my first project--a subdivision in Woodland Hills. I'd sunk my last dime into it.

"The L.A. Flood Control District, though, required an easement (a right to utilize land) from the property of one Joe Weller. I begged him. He was adamant. Here was a young guy on the verge of going broke. . . .

"Finally I made him an offer he couldn't refuse."

The offer still stands. It's called Weller Drive .

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