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In L.A., east is east

Some are trying to cheat the L.A. compass with a revisionist stab at mapping the city's neighborhoods.

February 19, 2009|PATT MORRISON

You. In the stiff new fedora and drinking a caipirinha. Stop playing fast and loose with the map of L.A.

The movies have always made us a little nutty about our own geography: City Hall plays the Vatican and the Daily Planet; downtown streets get a dousing of water and become instant-cinema Chicago.

But when they strike the set, don't you dare cheat the L.A. compass. That's happening right now, with a revisionist stab at mapping L.A.'s neighborhoods.

What lights my fuse is the attempted rebranding of Silver Lake as the "Eastside," mostly, I think, by people who stand to make a buck by appropriating the name of one part of L.A. and slapping it on another.

As one who lives on the real Eastside, I protest this baldfaced defiance of history, logic and geography.

On top of that, my own newspaper carried a story about singer Chris Brown allegedly beating his girlfriend, Rihanna, on Grammy Awards night in Hancock Park -- which we dopily called a "Westside neighborhood." The late Buff Chandler would have dropped her Royal Crown Derby teacup -- her elegant neighborhood conflated with the striving, nouveau riche Westside? Hancock Park is due south of Hollywood, and Hollywood is not the Westside.

We name our neighborhoods because we can't grope around in nearly 500 square miles of undifferentiated city (see the new Times "Mapping L.A." project at latimes.com/mappingla.) We fashion districts within districts. Koreatown, for example, carves out an identity in "Mid-City," a hopelessly lame but useful catchall.

The Los Angeles City Council voted a few years ago to wipe out South-Central Los Angeles and rename it South Los Angeles, indulging in the magical thinking that a new name would take away the sting of crime and disrepair. That was a whole lot cheaper than actually doing more to take away the sting of crime and disrepair. The new name hasn't caught on any better than New Coke.

So do not go trying to cheat Thomas Bros., or even TomTom. All the city's street numbers -- east, west, north, south -- begin at 1st and Main downtown; it is Greenwich, the prime meridian of L.A., from which all distances are measured. And ever since the Spanish showed up, "Eastside" has been anything east of the Los Angeles River -- Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Glassell Park. Not Silver Lake. Not even Echo Park.

These days, sensible folks put the Westside line at La Cienega, or at its leanest, the 405 Freeway, leaving room for downtown and a lot of other neighborhoods in between.

Just because the land between downtown and the sea has filled up doesn't change the city's nature. We don't need to redraw our map.

Manhattan isn't freaking out because the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side aren't "upper" at all. There's a whole lot of Manhattan above them. But they're still "upper" because, as my Big Apple colleague Geraldine Baum says, they were christened when the rest of "upper Manhattan" was farmland.

This new "Eastside" battle is curious because over the years, it's mostly been about the clamor to lay claim to being "Westside." Real estate agents would try to sell any neighborhood west of La Brea as "westside property," making it expensive by association. Technically, all streets with "W" after their numbers are "west," but that doesn't make them Westside in sensibility or spirit.

After all the Westside mania, it's flattering that the "Eastside" label would suddenly have its own chic.

Rebranding Silver Lake as Eastside -- the "Eastside 'hood" as one website described it -- makes it sound edgy and thrillingly louche. But it's a Westsider's version of the Eastside, hip but not too scary. It makes it an ideal hangout for the hesitantly adventuresome who only dare go downtown with their hearts in their throats and their wallets in their socks. They can congratulate themselves on hanging out in this cool Eastside, never imagining that there's a real Eastside off to the, um, east.

Not every place in L.A. can be the Westside. And not every place can be the Eastside either. Once you call Silver Lake the Eastside, you cheat the real Eastside of its name and its character. You nullify Evergreen Cemetery, the Mariachi Plaza bandstand, the Breed Street Synagogue and all that history and future.

Can we give Silver Lake some other hipster geo-designation. The Leastside? The Feastside?

I called Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office several times to get his take on this. He's an Eastside guy. He would have all this figured out.

He never called me back. But then again, he lives in the mayor's residence, Getty House. That's in Windsor Square, which is next to Hancock Park, which I guess means he's practically a Westsider now.

--

p att.morrison@latimes.com

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