YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Proposal Not Music to His Ears

Piano-playing grandson of the developer of Crenshaw Boulevard opposes plan to rename the street for late Mayor Tom Bradley.

June 25, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

On the eve of a Los Angeles City Council vote to rename Crenshaw Boulevard after late Mayor Tom Bradley, the descendants of George L. Crenshaw weighed in on the controversial proposal, saying it would be a disservice to the legacy of the influential real estate developer.

Charles Crenshaw, the dapper 93-year-old grandson of the developer who built upscale residential tracts in mid-city Los Angeles, said his family has always been proud of the boulevard that carries his grandfather's name.

"I'm opposed to it on the grounds that it's our heritage and our very family treasure," Crenshaw said Tuesday afternoon at his piano store in Burbank, where he showed sepia photographs of his grandfather and the home he owned in Lafayette Square.

The longtime jazz piano teacher seemed delighted to tell reporters about his family history and even played a rendition of "Stormy Weather" to show off his talents.

Crenshaw Boulevard is "100 years old and known by all and so well-established, and I can see no particular gain or advantage in taking the name away from Crenshaw and giving it to some other family who had nothing whatsoever to do with its growth," he added.

Crenshaw said his family was shocked to read about the proposed name change in the newspaper. On Tuesday afternoon, he and his son Dean signed a petition against the proposal, which the council is set to vote on today.

The Crenshaw family's objections join a chorus of protests from residents and business owners in the community, who say they were not consulted about the proposed name change of the street affectionately dubbed "the 'Shaw.' "

The idea to rename a stretch of the thoroughfare from Wilshire Boulevard to 79th Street after the city's first and only African American mayor came from longtime friends of Bradley. Former Councilman Robert Farrell and former Bradley aide William Elkins urged Councilman Nate Holden to propose the change before he leaves office Monday.

Holden, who has the support of Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who represents most of the boulevard, called it a fitting tribute to the longtime mayor, who died in 1998.

"I don't know what Mr. Crenshaw did except own the land over there," Holden said. "But he will not lose the identity .... The Crenshaw community will always be the Crenshaw community. I don't think Mr. Crenshaw would mind sharing that part of the boulevard."

But others have suggested that it would be more appropriate to rename other streets such as Rodeo Road or Vermont Avenue that are not as symbolic.

Crenshaw is not only a street, residents said, but also the name of a vibrant community long known as the center of African American business in L.A.

James Turner, the owner of a bail bond business and swap meet on Crenshaw, called the proposed change ridiculous.

"Everybody knows where Crenshaw Boulevard is," said Turner, who said that if the proposal passes, he will have to spend thousands of dollars to change his business cards and brochures. "This is a down street. This is the bomb. This is where it's at. We don't want to go down Tom Bradley Avenue."

Lafayette Square and other exclusive neighborhoods along Crenshaw Boulevard were off-limits to African Americans until the 1940s, when restrictive racial covenants where lifted.

But residents say the history of the name is not as important as the meaning it has now.

"Crenshaw is our neighborhood and we are proud of the legacy," said community activist Najee Ali. "It's not so much where the name came from -- it's what we have done with it."

For the Crenshaw family, the name change would mean the loss of a public marker commemorating George L. Crenshaw's influence on the city, relatives said.

Born in Missouri and orphaned at a young age, Crenshaw was a banker who came to California in 1905, where he became a developer and built such fashionable neighborhoods as Lafayette Square. Designed as an upscale community, the neighborhood boasted broad tree-lined streets that were home to Pepperdine University founder George Pepperdine, actor W.C. Fields and boxer Joe Louis, among others.

As he was building the neighborhood, the developer dubbed one of the main thoroughfares along the tract "Crenshaw Boulevard." "In those days, you just went down to City Hall and signed a little slip and that was it," Charles Crenshaw said.



What's in a name?

The names of many Los Angeles streets have changed over the years, reflecting the city's transformation from a tiny Mexican colonial town to a booming multicultural metropolis.

L. Ron Hubbard Way: In 1996, a one-block stretch of Berendo Street in Hollywood was renamed after the Scientology founder.

* Cesar E. Chavez Avenue: In 1993, a stretch of Brooklyn Avenue -- named for Brooklyn, N.Y., in Boyle Heights' once-thriving Jewish community -- was renamed for the labor leader.

* Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street: In 1988, Weller Street in Little Tokyo was renamed to honor the Japanese American astronaut killed in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

* Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard: In 1983, Santa Barbara Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles' African American community was transformed into a seven-mile tribute to the slain civil rights hero.

* Via Marisol: In 1978, Hermon Avenue, named for the biblical Mt. Hermon, a sacred landmark at the Golan Heights headwaters of the River Jordan, disappeared when then-City Councilman Art Snyder renamed it for his 3-year-old daughter, Erin-Marisol.

* Olympic Boulevard: In 1932, 10th Street was renamed because Los Angeles hosted the 10th Olympiad.

Compiled by Cecilia Rasmussen

Los Angeles Times Articles