10 Streets Named After People in Los Angeles
On Monday, the city of Los Angeles honored Vin Scully, the voice of Dodger baseball for 67 seasons — including the current one, which will be his last — by changing the name of Elysian Park Avenue to Vin Scully Avenue.
The move was not without its very small share of naysayers. The Echo Park Historical Society and the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park felt the move undermined Elysian Park.
Anyway. L.A. has a long and rich tradition of naming streets after all sorts of people, from the celebrated and the vaguely remembered to the confused with other celebrities and the who-the-hell-is-that? set. Here, then, is a list — by no means exhaustive but fairly representative, we hope — of streets named after people in Los Angeles.
10. Wilshire Boulevard
We simply must start with Wilshire, the 15-mile arterial boulevard stretching from downtown to the very doorstep of the Pacific Ocean. The street — or a rough approximation of it — began, in the words of Nathan Masters, as a prehistoric trail that "extended west of present-day Los Angeles, connecting the large Tongva village of Yaangna with coastal settlements. Under the Spanish, the trail became a well-used highway, rutted with the tracks of wagons transporting asphalt pitch from the La Brea Tar Pits for the pueblos' adobe structures."
By 1895, the street had been named after Henry Gaylord Wilshire, a well-to-do developer and rabid socialist; as his daughter-in-law would later say, "Gaylord was a prototype of a strange and paradoxical breed of man, the liberal politician of great wealth who would someday rule America." In 1900, he was arrested for speaking in a public park. He ran for numerous political offices — Congress, attorney general, British Parliament, Canadian Parliament and finally L.A. City Council in 1909 — and lost every time.
He became a publisher and launched a socialist magazine called The Challenge, which printed excerpts from Sinclair Lewis' The Jungle. But he blew his once-vast fortune on bad investments, including an "electromagnetic belt" he said would cure headaches. He died in New York, virtually penniless, in 1927.
A multitude of other L.A. streets are named after wealthy developers and landowners, including but not limited to: Crenshaw (developer George Crenshaw), Chandler (land owner and L.A. Times publisher Harry Chandler); Wilcox (Henry Henderson Wilcox, who owned a ranch named Hollywood); Lankershim (Isaac Lankershim); Van Nuys (Isaac Newton Van Nuys); Sherman Way (Moses Sherman); Huntington Drive (railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington); Temple (Jonathan Temple); and Abbot Kinney (Abbot Kinney, the quixotic developer who dreamed up Venice Beach, California).
9. Pico Boulevard
This great thoroughfare is named for Pio Pico, the last governor of the Mexico-controlled Alta California. Following the Mexican-American War, which of course saw California transfer to American control, Pico became an average citizen. He delved into business, becoming one of the wealthiest cattlemen in the state.
But like Wilshire, Pico also lost his fortune — in part to a bad gambling habit and in part to a flood in 1883, which decimated the cattle population — and died destitute.
Many of L.A.'s great streets are named for former Alta California governors, including Figueroa (José Figueroa), Micheltorena (Manuel Micheltorena) and Alvarado, (Juan Bautista Alvarado). Sepulveda Boulevard, the city's longest street, is named after the entire Sepulveda family.
Schweikart Tadeusz Kosciuszko
8. Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko Way
Perhaps you've seen this short, two-block byway while circling the block looking for parking in downtown L.A.. The story of how such a tiny street got such a large and cumbersome name (attempts to Google it inevitably lead to the Unabomber) is one of, as the L.A. Times once put it, "oafish municipal controversy":
The City Council at first refused to name the little street after the Polish-born hero of the Revolutionary War because members agreed with a recommendation of the city engineer's office that the name was too long for a street sign and too difficult to pronounce. (In fact, it is pronounced cause-choose-ko. )
Then, after a blistering from Americans of Polish heritage across the nation — particularly Mary Dziadula, a self-described "little old lady from Burbank" — the council reconsidered.
The little old lady's efforts paid off: The street, named for a man who never set foot in Los Angeles, is now the site of the Broad museum.
7. Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street
But there is an even littler street with an even longer name. This half-block diagonal thing, running southeast from First Street in Little Tokyo, was named after Ellison Onizuka. Yes, he was an astronaut — the first Asian-American in space, killed aboard the Challenger explosion in 1986. A year later, the city decided to rename Weller Street after Onizuka, who, like Kosciuszko, never lived in L.A.
Tiny streets honoring better-known celebs include Chick Hearn Court, the two-block street on which Staples Center sits, and Johnnie Cochran Vista, the 2½ blocks on which Johnnie Cochran Middle School sits.
6. Talmadge Street
In case you hadn't noticed, there aren't a whole lot of streets named after women in L.A. The few women that are so honored tend to be actresses. Talmadge, the north-south residential street in Los Feliz, is named for Norma Talmadge, a silent film star who, throughout the 1920s, was one of the most popular actresses in America.
Talmadge couldn't make the transition into talking pictures and faded from the public eye. She appeared to be quite comfortable with that — once, when fans approached her for an autograph, she declined, saying, "Get away, dears. I don't need you anymore and you don't need me." According to The New York Times, Talmadge inspired two rather nasty caricatures: Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain, "a silent diva whose Brooklyn accent undermines her talking debut in a French historical drama"; and Norma Desmond, "the grotesque, predatory silent movie queen of 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, played by Gloria Swanson.
According to the Times:
Yet Talmadge was anything but the man-baiting vamp frequently portrayed by Swanson and [Pola] Negri. At a time when women made up the majority of the moviegoing public, she was not a sex object intended for male consumption but a figure women could identify with, struggling with issues of autonomy and identity.
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