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Supporters praise newly minted Obama Boulevard in 'iconic black community'

Supporters praise newly minted Obama Boulevard in 'iconic black community'
Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama greets supporters during a rally at Rancho Cienega Recreation Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 20, 2007. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A 3.7-mile stretch of road in the heart of Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood is getting a new name in honor of the country’s first African American president, and local leaders say the symbolism is important.

Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), who represents the area, said she loved that former President Obama would have a permanent presence there.

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“It’s the merging of a historic president [and] street with an iconic black community,” she said.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to rename Rodeo Road, a main east-west artery in the city, as Obama Boulevard.

The newly minted thoroughfare runs from Jefferson Boulevard near Ballona Creek, at the edge of the city’s boundary with Culver City, to Gramercy Place, just short of Exposition Boulevard.

Obama Boulevard will slice through a mix of residential streets and strip malls at the northern border of Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park and will pass by Dorsey High School, Baldwin Hills Elementary School and the Rancho Cienega Recreation Center.

In 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama held a rally at the Rancho Cienega rec center near the beginning of his historic presidential campaign.

(Los Angeles Times)

City Council President Herb Wesson first proposed the street’s name change in June 2017, citing Obama’s rally there as reason for the change. The area already has streets named after presidents, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

“We’re thrilled that Angelenos and visitors will forever be reminded of the legacy of President @BarackObama when traveling across L.A.,” Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote in a tweet Tuesday night.

Sen. Barack Obama made his first visit to Los Angeles on Feb. 20, 2007, as a presidential candidate, speaking to supporters at Rancho Cienega Recreation Center.
Sen. Barack Obama made his first visit to Los Angeles on Feb. 20, 2007, as a presidential candidate, speaking to supporters at Rancho Cienega Recreation Center. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The change was announced on the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the anniversary of Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2008.

The park where Obama held his 2007 rally will now be at the intersection of streets named after the two men.

“I look forward to standing at the intersection of MLK Boulevard (formerly Santa Barbara Boulevard) and the newly minted Barack Obama Boulevard and raising my fist in cultural pride,” state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement.

Obama Boulevard is set to be unveiled on Presidents Day 2019, said Vanessa Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Wesson. Wesson’s office has had “preliminary” talks with the former president’s and first lady’s offices about having them attend the unveiling, she said.

“The City of Angels would be honored to again host the President and First Lady,” she said in an email.

The move is not the first to honor the former president in Southern California. In September, a resolution by state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) to rename a portion of the 134 Freeway passed. Several California schools also have been named after Obama, and in the Monterey Bay town of Seaside, city leaders designated one street Obama Way.

The name change sparked some debate in 2017, with some residents saying that Obama deserved to have his name on a more prominent street in Los Angeles. But Wesson defended the choice of Rodeo Road.

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“People wanted a longer street, but what I have said to the people, it’s not about the length of the street, it’s about the significance of the street, it is about what happened on that street,” Wesson said at a council meeting in 2017.

3:30 p.m.: This post was updated with details on the boulevard’s unveiling.

This article was originally published at 1:40 p.m.

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