What L.A.'s Spanish Street Names Mean in English

What L.A.'s Spanish Street Names Mean in English
Olivier Bruchez/Flickr

In a city that's about 43 percent Spanish-speaking, not to mention those who learned Spanish at school or on the fly, we still have a couple million Angelenos who haven't got a clue how colorful L.A.'s Spanish-named streets really are. 

How much more fun — not to mention aware — to know these English translations, right?

Over breakfast recently, with a gleam in his eye, former Mayor Richard Riordan gave up his favorite among the city's Spanish street names: La Tijera, that excellent shortcut to LAX that slashes diagonally across a bunch of other streets.

And it means, in English? Think about it for a sec. ... Yep, it's scissors. "It cuts through everything," Riordan said with delight. 

It's amazing how much these Spanish names actually matter. They connect us to our forgotten history, and to a deep sense of place. Here then are some of the most terrific Spanish-named streets in Los Angeles: 

A replica of the mammoth found at La Brea Tar Pits near La Brea Avenue
A replica of the mammoth found at La Brea Tar Pits near La Brea Avenue

1. La Brea Avenue:
Tar Avenue. We didn't say every Spanish word was beautiful, just colorful. What else could pioneers call it, with those tar deposits bubbling through the soil, creating the La Brea Tar Pits and preserving incredible 44,000-year old skeletons of a dire wolf, saber-toothed cat and 3 million other ancient skeletons, bones and plants?

2. La Cienega Boulevard:
It's a misspelling of swamp, la cienaga, so Swamp Boulevard. As the fab book LAtitudes: An Angeleno's Atlas explains, L.A., with its Mediterranean climate, is not a desert. Before man paved it over, massive herds of longhorn cattle were raised on L.A.'s vast grasslands. A huge freshwater wetland, stretching from Hollywood to South L.A., with L.A. River as its center, drained into the Ballona Watershed. La Cienega was built there, to freeway standards, because the deluded politicians and developers of the 1940s wanted it to be the southern stretch of "Laurel Canyon Freeway," which would have turned Laurel Canyon into a giant asphalt gash over the Hollywood Hills.
.

Ventura Boulevard, among L.A.'s most livable streets, has an apt name in Spanish.EXPAND
Ventura Boulevard, among L.A.'s most livable streets, has an apt name in Spanish.
Eden, Janine and Jim

3. Ventura Boulevard:
A shortened version of buenaventura, it means Good Luck Boulevard. As one of the most mentioned roads in songs about L.A., the 18-mile street has indeed thrived. Among the most livable boulevards in L.A., neither neglected nor choked with "elegant density" towers, its low-slung ribbon of lively, welcoming communities is a haven for neighborhood activism.  

Cahuenga Boulevard, a tongue twister and revenue generator for the cityEXPAND
Cahuenga Boulevard, a tongue twister and revenue generator for the city

4. Cahuenga Boulevard and Cahuenga Pass:
Haha! Just testing you. A real tongue twister for newbies to L.A, "Cahuenga" isn't Spanish at all. It's from the Tongva Indians, who founded a village in the San Fernando Valley near Cahuenga Pass, its location sadly lost to time. Their village, Kawengna, meant place of the mountain or place of the hill. How wonderful: Place of the Mountain Boulevard.

5. Los Feliz Boulevard:
C'mon! Feliz Navidad? You're banned from L.A. right now if you don't know this one. Feliz means happy. So it's Happy Christmas Boulevard (a reader who spotted my initial transgression of adding "Christmas" to the street name also notes that Los Feliz is a mangled word combo, giving us a street and neighborhood name meaning the Happies, which is just so perfect). And to all our FB friends, when it rolls around, Feliz Cumpleaños!

Verdugo Road, or in English, Hangman Road, named after the soldier who brought the first grapevines to Los Angeles
Verdugo Road, or in English, Hangman Road, named after the soldier who brought the first grapevines to Los Angeles

6. Verdugo Road:
Welcome to Executioner Road, or Hangman Road, named after the first guy said to have cultivated grapes here, a gun-wielding soldier-explorer from Baja California named Jose Maria Verdugo — Joe Hangman in English.



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