Councilman gives 103-year-old a birthday gift that screams 'L.A.'

Councilman gives 103-year-old a birthday gift that screams 'L.A.'
In honor of his 103rd birthday, Leon Saliba, left, receives a personalized street sign from Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times)

For his 100th birthday, the city planted a purple-leaf plum tree in the parkway in front of Leon Saliba's Toluca Lake home.

When he turned 101, Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge took him to the Cahuenga Pass and photographed him standing near a 101 Freeway sign.


On his 102nd birthday, the councilman photographed Saliba standing outside of city Fire Station 102 on Burbank Boulevard on the edge of Van Nuys.

This year, for the 103rd birthday celebration he invited Saliba for an anniversary photo at the corner of 103rd Street and Success Avenue near Watts.

"After all, reaching age 103 involves having success," explained the councilman, who represents Saliba's neighborhood.

But Thursday's unseasonably warm weather and heavy noontime traffic caused Saliba and his daughter to have second thoughts about making the 50-mile round trip. For the first time since he turned triple digits, Saliba took a pass on the birthday photo op.

So LaBonge took the ceremony to Saliba's Valley Spring Lane home.

As family members watched, Saliba received an official "103rd Street" sign with his name printed below in smaller lettering. The blue metal sign even has reflective lettering.

"This is wonderful. But I can't take a sign I shouldn't have," the surprised centenarian said. "But I think it's just great. It's big and it has giant capital letters."

A retired independent insurance agent who worked in the mid-Wilshire district for six decades, Saliba has lived next to the Lakeside Golf Course for more than 40 years.

Born Feb. 22, 1911, in Campbell, Mo., Saliba spent his childhood in Salt Lake City and moved to Los Angeles while in junior high school. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1928.

Daughter Cathy Saliba described her father as someone who stays active and tries to get out of the house daily.

"He loves living here and going to different businesses and restaurants and supporting the community," she said. "On Wednesday his doctor told him he has the heart of an 80-year-old. His eye doctor says he has the eyesight of an 80-year-old, too."

She said her father plans to celebrate over the weekend with family, including six children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. His wife of 58 years, Dolores, died 20 years ago.

Cathy Saliba, along with her sister and brother-in-law, accompanied her father to the 101 Freeway sign photo op two years ago. Last year, she went with him to Fire Station 102.

"I don't know what I'm going to do for 104," LaBonge said. "But I've got a year to figure it out."