Someday the Soviet Union, where he foreshadowed a freer future, may name someplace such as Palace Square in St. Petersburg for dissident Andrei Sakharov, but until it gets around to it, a Studio City intersection will fill the gap.
Despite the unexpected location, a sidewalk ceremony was held Thursday at Laurel Canyon and Ventura boulevards, marked by moments of jubilance and solemnity as Sakharov's wife, Yelena Bonner, urged about 100 Soviet emigres to remember her husband by seeking the freedom of oppressed people worldwide.
"I am compelled to dwell on tragic things," Bonner said through an interpreter, apologizing at the end of her 15-minute speech for discussing ethnic unrest in Armenia and Georgia instead of breezier topics on a still, hot San Fernando Valley morning.
But the crowd--mostly graying immigrants who fled totalitarian Soviet regimes--applauded Bonner with the enthusiasm of children for a sports star. Some proudly wore World War II medals on their chests as they jostled for position in photographs with the woman who was Sakharov's link to the outside world during his years of exile in the city of Gorky for criticizing Soviet violations of human rights.
A blue and white sign was unveiled proclaiming the intersection--home to a drugstore and a bank and the future site of a mini-mall--Andrei Sakharov Square. A granite memorial will be installed on the northeast corner of the intersection, across from where a carwash once stood that local residents tried unsuccessfully to have named a historical monument.
While a Valley intersection might seem an odd place to memorialize a Nobel Prize winner, this is Los Angeles. Besides, it's not just any intersection.
"It's an intersection with a left-turn light," joked Tommy Giavocchini, an employee at nearby Bicycle Shack. "That's a big deal."
"It's a very good intersection," Valentina Voroshvsky, who emigrated to Los Angeles from Moldova six years ago, agreed in all seriousness. "It's a very nice place here. It's not strange at all. It means very much to us that at least he is appreciated for the lot he did."
The idea of honoring Sakharov with an intersection was hatched by Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs soon after Sakharov's death in December, 1989. Wachs initially wanted to honor the physicist by changing the name of Ventura Place, a half-block stretch of road lined with restaurants, dry cleaners and family-owned specialty shops about 100 yards away from the intersection.
Merchants on the little street nixed the idea, saying the name change would confuse customers. Many are not enthusiastic even to have Sakharov Square next door. "Who the hell is Andrei Sakharov to us?" asked Paul Kurtz, owner of Vitaminland health food store.
"Andrei Sakharov? Nobody can say it," another shopkeeper said, pronouncing the name flawlessly.
So Wachs next proposed renaming some other public space after the man whose country exalted him for his scientific research and condemned him for his agitation for human rights. But Los Angeles is not famous for its promenades of monuments and memorials.
There are, however, plenty of intersections.
The designation was approved by the City Council in October, but the dedication ceremony was delayed until Bonner, who lives in Moscow, arrived in Los Angeles for speaking engagements this week.
Two other crossroads have been renamed to honor famous people--one for Swedish World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, and another at 91st and Figueroa streets for Prince Hall, who began the black Masonic movement in the 18th Century.
Three more, including one that will be dedicated to the late Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards, have been approved by the council and are awaiting installation.