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L.A. THEN AND NOW

The long and the short of the Southland's street names

December 10, 2006|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

In the land that gave birth to Hollywood make-believe, sometimes even streets aren't quite what they seem.

Many of the nearly 50,000 street names in Los Angeles County carry the names of notables, an efficient way of marking history: Washington, for the first president; Pico, for the last governor of California under Mexican rule; Lindbergh, for the aviator; and Martin Luther King Jr., for the civil rights leader.

But then there's Hoover Street, west of the Harbor Freeway. The man it honors isn't President Hoover but Dr. Leonce Hoover, a Swiss who served as a French military surgeon under Napoleon Bonaparte. After arriving in Los Angeles in 1849 with his wife and three children, he changed the spelling of his name from Huber to Hoover and became a pioneering vintner, growing high-quality wine grapes near what is now the town of Cudahy. Hoover died in 1862; 30 years later, Hoover Street was named in his honor.

Likewise, Churchill Avenue in Chatsworth is named not for the British statesman but for Howard Churchill, a former Los Angeles city employee with the Bureau of Engineering.

South Los Angeles has Rochester Circle, which doesn't honor the city in New York but Jack Benny's sidekick Rochester. Eddie Anderson, an early African American performer who lived on the block, portrayed him.

Gregory Way and Peck Drive, which intersect in Beverly Hills, aren't tributes to the actor in "To Kill a Mockingbird," even though he lived in Beverly Hills. Peck Street was named for contractor Clair L. Peck, and Gregory for an early 20th century resident whose accomplishments are now lost to history, according to the Bureau of Engineering files.

In 1906, the posh burg's founder, Burton Green, had a street named after him, Burton Way. But Arnaz Drive in Beverly Hills owes its name not to Desi Arnaz -- who, with his wife, Lucille Ball, revolutionized television comedy -- but to Don Jose de Arnaz, a landholder in 19th century Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Arcadia, Temple City and San Gabriel share Longden Avenue, named not for famous jockey Johnny Longden -- who rode to many victories at nearby Santa Anita racetrack -- but for Los Angeles County Supervisor Orray W. Longden, who died in 1905.

Chavez Ravine Place in Chavez Ravine was named several decades ago for an 1850s landowner, Julian Chavez, not for United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez.

Silver Lake Boulevard, which runs through the community of Silver Lake and near Silver Lake reservoir, honors an early L.A. water commissioner, Herman Silver.

Sepulveda Boulevard, the longest thoroughfare in both the city and county of Los Angeles, stretches 40 miles from Long Beach to Mission Hills in the San Fernando Valley. It was named in 1925 for pioneering 19th century cattle rancher Francisco Sepulveda, whose 30,260-acre spread, Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica, extended west from the present-day boulevard to the ocean.

The city's shortest street, Powers Place, southwest of downtown, extends just 13 feet. It was named in 1910 for contractor Benjamin Powers.

The lowest is Seaside Avenue on Terminal Island, 10 feet below sea level, according to an official at the Bureau of Street Services.

Several streets vie to be Los Angeles' steepest: Baxter, Fargo, Duane and Eldred all have grades between 32% and 33%. (A 33% grade rises 33 feet for every 100 feet of length.) According to the city, the steepest section of public roadway -- only about 50 feet long -- is on 28th Street in San Pedro, climbing at a 33.3% grade.

As mundane as names often seem, they can inspire revolts. In the 1880s, Angelenos residing on Charity Street did not like saying they lived "on Charity." They petitioned the city for a change, and Charity Street became Grand Avenue.

In 1897, Mayor Meredith Pinxton "Pinky" Snyder suggested changing the names of such streets and avenues as Arapahoe, Juanita, Cerro Gordo and Santiago because, he said, "newcomers cannot spell or pronounce" such names, according to a Times story of the era. Angelenos were highly insulted; the names survived.

Eighty years later, Mary Dziadula (pronounced Ja-du-la), a self-described "little old lady from Burbank," became a major force in naming a new, two-block-long downtown street Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko Way (pronounced cause-choose-ko), after the Polish-born hero of the Revolutionary War.

City officials often are petitioned by people wanting to christen a byway after some local notable. The rule book usually blocks that. Harrison Kimball, who in 1967 was in charge of naming streets for the Bureau of Engineering, told a Times reporter that streets aren't named for the living, and explained why:

"A person's a hero one year, but then he vanishes from the public eye or becomes a crum-bum in the years beyond." Also, Kimball said, "it's an embarrassing situation if the street is named for a developer and then he ends up in the clink."

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