What's in a name?
Everything, according to residents of a one-square-mile neighborhood south of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
For years, many in the area have chafed under the name "South-Central Los Angeles," which they consider more of a blood- and drug-smeared media image than an actual location.
Although the neighborhood--bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the Harbor Freeway and Vernon and Western avenues--has its share of crime, residents say it's not as much as some might think given its inclusion in the vast swath of Los Angeles generally considered South-Central.
While definitions vary, South-Central is roughly the area bounded by King, Imperial Highway and Central and Western avenues.
The neighborhood is patrolled by the LAPD's Southwest Division. Of the three LAPD divisions that cover South-Central, however, Southwest had the fewest reported violent crimes, according to 1995 crime statistics through May 7. Despite this, residents claim, the Coliseum area is seen as having the same crime rate as South-Central.
In response, some homeowners and Los Angeles police officers have launched a campaign to rename the neighborhood. They hope a new name will help erase the community's violence-plagued image and attract new businesses.
Among the names being considered are the Coliseum District, the Hoover District and the Exposition Park District.
"We're tired of being called South-Central because it's a negative thing," said Iona Diggs, who has lived near 43rd Place and Vermont Avenue for 42 years. "We want a name that will be positive."
Diggs is the captain of the 43rd Place Block Club, one of a handful of community groups that has been asked by Los Angeles police officer Steve Vera to suggest a new name. Her group plans to take a vote on the proposal at its June meeting.
At least 80% of the residents in a community must sign a petition to change the area's name. The area's City Council representatives, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rita Walters, must then approve the move. Walters and Ridley-Thomas both said they would be receptive to the idea.
Vera, an eight-year LAPD veteran, is a senior lead officer at the Southwest Division who works exclusively to strengthen ties between police and residents.
Supervisors last year asked Vera to pursue the name change after the division's citizens advisory committee included the idea in a series of recommendations drafted to solve crime problems and improve the area.
The 17-page document also sets targets for other changes in the neighborhood, such as shutting down drug houses and removing abandoned vehicles.
Advisory committee member Harold Greenberg said the panel called for the name change to reflect that "most people here are law-abiding and care about the community." He also predicted the move would boost property values.
Meanwhile, the 41st Street Block Club has voted to re-christen the neighborhood the Exposition Park District. Members chose the new name in a unanimous show of hands during a meeting earlier this month.
Block club secretary Pat Watkins said the winning choice in her mind evokes "a place where families can come together to share things."
South-Central, on the other hand, conjures up images of "gangbangers, robberies, high crime, and drugs," she said.
"When we have people coming to our area we want them not to be afraid," she said. "To change our name would help visitors see the south side of Los Angeles is a nicer environment."
Not all residents of the area are eager to change the name.
"I don't see anything wrong with 'South-Central,' " said Pauline Echwald, who has lived in the 900 block of West 41st Street since 1952. "Where aren't there gangs? I'm sure a name's not going to change the problem one bit."
Yet Vera said the name change makes sense not only as an image booster but for more mundane considerations such as directions. Visitors, he said, would have an easier time finding the neighborhood if it had a distinct identity.