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.
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.
5. Pickford Street
Pickford Street in West L.A. is, of course, named for Mary Pickford, a silent film star who did make the transition to talkies. The first actress known as “America's Sweetheart,” her popularity was surpassed only by that of Charlie Chaplin. She was such a huge star that she was able to produce her own movies and co-founded United Artists along with Chaplin, her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, and director D.W. Griffith.
Surprisingly, only a handful of other Hollywood stars have streets in L.A. named after them, including DeMille Drive, Bob Hope Drive, George Burns Drive and Ince Boulevard in Culver City, named for director Thomas Ince, who is today best remembered for being shot in the head aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht in 1924, giving rise to all sorts of legends and conspiracy theories (namely, that Hearst was trying to shoot Charlie Chaplin, whom he suspected of sleeping with his mistress, Marion Davies, but missed, hitting Ince).
4. Hoover Street
A number of U.S. presidents have streets in L.A. named after them — Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln and so on. But Herbert Hoover is not one of them. Rather, Hoover Street is named for Dr. Leonce Huber, “a Swiss who served as a French military surgeon under Napoleon Bonaparte,” according to the L.A. Times, which reported:
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.
3. James M. Wood Boulevard
Speaking of streets not named after who you think they are, James M. Wood Boulevard is not named after the star of True Believer and Diggstown — that's James Woods — but James M. Wood, the former head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who, as chair of the Community Redevelopment Agency, helped bring about the redevelopment of downtown L.A.
In 1997, L.A.'s City Council voted to rename a portion of Ninth Street, from Figueroa to Western — where the County Fed's modest headquarters sit — after Wood. It's a bit weird, since Wood's successors at the helm of the County Fed, Miguel Contreras and Maria Elena Durazo, were far more influential.
Other streets who people think are named after celebrities but really aren't include Chevy Chase Drive, named after the town of Chevy Chase in Maryland, and Bronson Avenue, named after the realtor Marcus Alonzo Bronson. According to legend, Charles Bronson — born Charles Dennis Buchinsky — renamed himself after the street, which dead-ends at Paramount Studios.
2. L. Ron Hubbard Way
Is there a more disliked figure to have an L.A. street named after him than L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction author and founder of the Church of Scientology?
The single-block street in East Hollywood, site of the church's headquarters, was named for Hubbard in 1996. According to the L.A. Times, City Council president John Ferraro backed the move, as did the vast majority of people who showed up to give public comment. Councilwoman Ruth Galanter was among the three no votes, saying at the time: “I believe that L. Ron Hubbard was a manipulative [and] dishonest [man]. … He's a cult leader. We don't name streets after cult leaders.”
Councilman Richard Alatorre defended Hubbard, who'd been dead for a decade: “I'm not here to try and fight or to try and defend or condemn any one person. … The fact of the matter is, this is the leader of this church that has been a long-standing member of the community. They are involved in positive work — they have a lot of members.”
And Councilman Richard Alarcon said: “We have, literally, thousands and thousands of streets named for people, most of whom I have no idea who they are.”
1. Martin Luther King Boulevard
The civil rights leader has more than 700 streets in the country named after him. Los Angeles decided to rename Santa Barbara Avenue as Martin Luther King Boulevard in 1983, just in time for the 1984 Olympics. There was, apparently, some resistance from the businesses on the street, but with some help from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Stevie Wonder, the measure passed unanimously.
In 1994, the city and county voted to rename part of Sunset Boulevard and other streets after another civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez.
Bonus lightening round:
Beaudry Avenue: Prudent Beaudry, the 13th mayor of Los Angeles, second French Canadian mayor of Los Angeles, otherwise pretty unremarkable
Doheny Drive: Oil tycoon Edward Doheny, who drilled the first successful well in the Los Angeles Oil Field and was later implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal.
Judge John F. Aiso Street: John Fuji Aiso, the highest-ranking Japanese-American in the U.S. Army during World War II, later a judge. He died at age 78, after he was mugged while pumping gas in Hollywood.
Los Feliz Boulevard: José Vicente Feliz, a member of the expedition that brought the first settlers to California and, in 1781, an original settler of Los Angeles.
Mulholland Drive: William Mulholland, the architect of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which allowed L.A. to grow and really screwed over the Owens Valley; his career ended in 1929, when the St. Francis Dam collapsed 12 hours after Mulholland himself had inspected it, killing as many as 431 people.
Olvera Street: Judge Agustin Olivera.
Silver Lake Boulevard: Herman Silver, a rather forgettable local politician who nevertheless managed to get the hippest neighborhood in America named after him.