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New signs to clear up confusion at Venice canals

Roadways are more clearly identified to help motorists navigate the enclave's watery maze.

September 30, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Ken Fritz has lived along the Venice canals in Los Angeles for seven years. To hear him tell it, life has been pretty good there except for one small problem: the chance of a visitor finding his home has long been a shot in the dark because of a confusing series of street names and signs.

"I came home once and found a report on my house that said there were isolated problems with termites," Fritz recalled Saturday. "I was grateful to know that, but I hadn't asked for a termite inspection" -- a neighbor one street over had.

Residents along the canals cut the ribbon Saturday on a new series of street signs that they believe will eliminate the problem of errant inspectors, mailmen, pizza boys and ambulances. Minutes before hoisting the city's giant pair of scissors, Councilman Bill Rosendahl declared, "Never again do we want to be confused in our signage."

The Venice canals were dug in the early 1900s, and are quite unlike anything else in Los Angeles because the homes don't front streets -- what, no pavement? -- but instead one of six canals that form the outlines of the neighborhood. Parking for homes along the canals is accessed by alleyways behind them, and therein has been the problem.

Pretend, for example, you live along Linnie Canal. Alleyways, known as courts, serve houses on each side of the canal. But those courts also serve adjacent canals, and the signage was never terribly clear on which alleyway served which canal.

One other bit of cheer for less than eagle-eyed motorists: The canals are bisected by Dell Avenue, with even-numbered homes for each court on one side and odd numbers on the other. The net result was that someone driving along Dell had plenty of chances to turn the wrong way.

Over the years, residents came to expect that anyone new to the neighborhood probably would land one block off the mark. In one sense, it added a bit of charm to the area, unless those turning the wrong way had a higher calling than delivering a large pepperoni with onions by the start of the fourth quarter.

"Last year, my 1-year-old daughter accidentally ate tin foil and began to choke, so we called 911," said canal resident Mark Heninger. "We saw the ambulance come, but it turned down the wrong alley and the firetruck followed. I ran up and said, 'You're at the wrong house,' but they were saying, 'No, we're at the right house.' "

Heninger's daughter made it to the hospital and was treated. But the incident helped gel a campaign already underway by concerned residents Bev Weise and Renee Kaplan, who had formed a group called FastFind. The solution they finally settled upon was to rename the five alleyways Court A, B, C, D and E.

Although they found that many of their neighbors agreed, and Rosendahl was willing to help them navigate the murky waters of City Hall, they also discovered -- surprise! -- that consensus wasn't quite there. Among the comments from those resisting the change, according to a city report: "It's the signs, not the names," "don't ruin the ambience" and "will create unnecessary confusion."

That's a point with which Weise disagrees. "I live along Carroll Canal. Now if I'm trying to tell people where I live, I can say, 'That's Court D, like dog,' " Weise said. "Before it was, 'I live on Carroll canal. Go over four bridges and turn right, but don't turn before the bridge where you see the signs saying 'Carroll Canal or Carroll Canal Court.' "

The new signage includes a blue sign that states which letter a court is. Underneath that sign are two green signs that spell out the pair of canals each court serves. It still requires a motorist to pause and reflect, but potentially promises to end the canals' era of the lost plumber.

But some residents asked: Why not something a little more sexy than A or B? Something Italian-themed, such as Court Michelangelo?

"You try reaching consensus with a bunch of unlike minds in Venice," Weise said.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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