Beverly Hills sign

Snapping a photo in front of the Beverly Hills sign. (Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)

You won't see “Little Santa Monica” printed on street signs.

But residents have long used the nickname for the mile-long stretch of road, officially known as South Santa Monica Boulevard, through the northern end of Beverly Hills' shopping district.

The “Little” moniker has survived for generations as a colloquial way to differentiate the row of boutiques, eateries and office buildings from the larger, heavily traveled Santa Monica Boulevard, also known as California 2 and historic Route 66, just to the north.

The days of “Little Santa Monica,” however, might be numbered. The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday will consider a proposal to rename the street Burton Way, as the street was known for a time in the city’s early years to honor cofounder Burton E. Green.

“To have the main street running through the Golden Triangle called ‘Little’ Santa Monica is really demeaning,” said Fred Barman, a commercial landlord and celebrity manager who lives just blocks from the boulevard. He found the name Burton Way in an old legal description for the location of his Barman Building, home of La Dolce Vita, on Little -- er, on South Santa Monica.

In addition, he said, the “Little” and “South” descriptors often confuse customers and tourists. Better, Barman said, to continue the name of Burton Way — a wide boulevard lined with high-tone condos, restaurants and L’Ermitage Hotel that would not seem out of place in Paris.

South Santa Monica Boulevard becomes Burton Way in Beverly Hills at the intersection with North Rexford Drive. Burton Way continues for a bit more than a mile before rounding a gentle bend and merging into San Vicente Boulevard.

The renaming proposal has its fans but has also prompted pushback from those who favor the status quo.

“I’ve always loved Little Santa Monica because of the diminutive,” said Sandra Kulli, a marketing professional who has helped name streets in the Playa Vista development and Orange County. “It’s quite charming in a quirky Los Angeles, Southern California way.”

Retitling the street might carry some advantages for emergency responders and visitors, she said, “but personally, I’d kind of miss it.”

This marks the third time since the 1980s that residents or planners have lobbied for a name change.

Past suggestions have included Beverly Hills Boulevard, New Burton Way, Will Rogers Boulevard and Business Triangle Drive (really?).

Marc Wanamaker, who has written books about Beverly Hills’ early days, favors the change. “It would be pretty historic changing the name,” he said. “It should be Burton Way.”

Beverly Hills owes its name to Green, who moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin in the 1880s.

In the early 1900s, he and others (including Max Whittier and railroad man Henry E. Huntington) formed Amalgamated Oil Co. and bought the land grant known as Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas. After drilling for oil and finding only water, they reorganized into Rodeo Land & Water Co. to develop a new residential town.

Green served as the company’s president and called the town Beverly Hills because of fond recollections of time spent in Beverly Farms, Mass.

Running through the young community was Santa Monica Boulevard, bifurcated by a double-track rail right-of-way used by Pacific Electric for its Red Car system.

The last rail car through Beverly Hills ran in 1954, and the last electric wires were removed in 1958, according to Matthew Barrett, research librarian with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

By then, he said, engineers had begun planning for a Beverly Hills Freeway that would run either underground or between the divided Santa Monica boulevards.

In the 1960s, the Beverly Hills City Council threw its support behind a freeway between the parallel boulevards that would connect to the Hollywood Freeway. Residents and business owners resisted, saying the freeway would be too close to the pricey homes just north of Santa Monica Boulevard and would permanently divide the city’s northern and southern areas.

As a compromise, transportation officials proposed a “cut and cover” freeway to be built below ground. The project was officially quashed. Councilwoman Nancy Krasne called Barman in July to warn him that merchants would probably oppose a name change because of the costs for altering stationery, business cards and brochures. She proposed that the city install dual signage and phase in the name change over a few years.
“As long as it doesn’t cost the merchants or the city money, and all it is is a few street signs, I don’t have a problem,” Krasne said.

One businessman, however, expressed reservations.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea, by any means,” said Offer Nissenbaum, managing director of the Peninsula Beverly Hills, a posh hotel on South Santa Monica near Wilshire Boulevard. “But I don’t see the real benefit for me.... There are much higher priorities.”

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martha.groves@latimes.com