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Paramount Erases ‘Compton’ Boulevard, Draws Fire

Times Staff Writer

What’s in a name? Or a name change?

Everything, according to city leaders who want to create a shiny new image for this community of 40,000, which was labeled one of the nation’s suburban disaster areas in a widely publicized report four years ago.

As part of an all-out marketing effort to attract middle-income families--but “not quite the Yuppie set"--the city fathers have changed the name of a major thoroughfare.

With a 4-1 City Council vote earlier this month, the two-mile stretch of Compton Boulevard that runs through Paramount became Somerset Boulevard.

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Change Called Racist

While officials in the neighboring city of Compton have called the name change silly at best and racist at worst, Paramount’s leaders say the new name goes with a new image that they hope will make their long-troubled city a better place to live in.

“Paramount has had a negative image--a place where drugs are sold, a cow town. We’re trying to change that,” Councilman Charles R. Weldon said.

In the next few years, housing developers could invest more than $200 million in Paramount, said Richard R. Powers, director of community development. Some of those developers advised the city that Somerset Boulevard had more sales pizazz than Compton Boulevard.

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To rename a street in an urban area in connection with a planned community is “a new twist,” said Richard A. Hollingsworth, representative for Kaufman & Broad Land Co., the Los Angeles developer that will build $14 million worth of single-family housing there beginning in early 1987.

No Yuppie Appeal

“Usually a master-planned community is in a new, undeveloped area, a new community and the streets are new. What we have in Paramount is a new urban village,” said Hollingsworth, who said he believes that the new community will draw “not quite the Yuppie set.” Instead, Hollingsworth sees the average home buyers being middle-class families with a couple of children and a $30,000 annual income who are probably buying a home for the first time.

The mayor of Compton is not impressed.

“It’s silly. It’s minor. If they want to change the name, it’s their prerogative,” Mayor Walter Tucker said of Paramount’s decision to change Compton Boulevard to Somerset Boulevard.

But Tucker also said he thought the action was racist and indicated that Paramount wants to disassociate itself from predominantly black Compton.

Racist Motives Denied

Officials in Paramount--where nearly half the population is Latino and about 6% is black--denied racist motives, or even that the city of Compton had anything to do with the advent of Somerset Boulevard.

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“It has nothing to do with Compton,” Powers said. “It has everything to do with the needs of Paramount.”

“Developers are saying we don’t have any identification. We are sort of going along with them. They say it will help them sell houses,” Paramount Mayor Gerald Mulrooney said.

But most of the business owners and residents who wrote to the Planning Commission in support of Somerset Boulevard said they saw the name change as a way of disassociating Paramount from Compton.

A Poor Image

“The word ‘Compton’ does not paint a picture of a first-class residential community since the area is too well known for the slums and strife that existed there for the last 20 or so years,” Dewain R. Butler wrote to the city. Butler is owner of Alondra Racquet Courts on Alondra Boulevard in Paramount and a limited partner in one of the developments.

Another letter writer supporting the change was Chuck Lyons, who is the co-owner of Lyons and Lyons Properties on Compton Boulevard.

Chuck Lyons said in an interview: “Its good for the area. We are supporting it because they have a number of problems across the freeway (in Compton).”

Those letters just reaffirm what other Compton officials suspect.

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“They are trying to disconnect themselves from Compton but it’s nothing new,” Councilman Maxcy D. Filer said. “Whatever reason they have, it is a flimsy one.”

Compton Councilwoman Jane Robbins said there was a Compton Boulevard before there was a city of Paramount. “I hate to see them do this,” she said. “If Paramount is changing the name, Bellflower can’t be far behind.” (Bellflower officials said they have no plans to change the name of Compton Boulevard where it runs through their city.)

‘City Is a Snob’

Not everyone in Paramount is happy about the change, either.

“That’s stupid. The city is a snob. It’s like an ugly woman putting on makeup when she really needs plastic surgery,” said Daisy Majak, a Paramount resident who lives a couple of blocks from Compton Boulevard.

“I think the city should concentrate on cleaning up the deteriorating neighborhoods and stop listening to a bunch of developers,” said Majak, a longtime activist and critic of Paramount administration.

Luis Sanchez, owner of Paramount Bakery on Compton Boulevard, said he is against the change because it will cost him money.

Change Stationery

“I’ll have to change everything to do with my business,” such as stationery, he said. “They should be cleaning up the street.”

Paramount city staff has taken steps to make the transition as smooth as possible, said Patrick West, deputy assistant city manager.

Letters announcing the change have been sent to more than 600 merchants and residents along the boulevard, nearly 20 agencies including the county sheriff and fire stations serving the area, Thomas Brothers mapping service, and the Paramount post office, which is on Compton Boulevard, West said.

Signs designating the boulevard as Somerset will be installed in about five weeks, West said. The boulevard will carry both Compton and Somerset signs for two years, until the residents get used to the new name, West said. The entire operation will cost the city about $6,000, he said.

No Postal Problems

Paramount Postmaster Robert Bowater said he does not foresee any problems.

“Paramount is a single ZIP code city; it won’t create that much of a problem. It basically is a paper work change. The national ZIP code directory will be notified of the name change,” Bowater said.

“We have already gotten a handful of mail addressed to Somerset Boulevard,” Bowater said.

In his 19 years at the post office, Bowater said, this is the first name change of an existing street.

“About 35 years ago,” Bowater said, “Long Beach Boulevard was changed from American Avenue. We still get mail addressed to American Avenue.”

Kaufman and Broad proposed Somerset because the area was once owned by “a man named Somerset” during the Spanish land-grant period, Hollingsworth said, “and we were looking for an identification for the city.”

Other Names Preferred

Councilman Weldon voted against Somerset, he said, because he preferred Hynes or Clearwater, names the areas were known by before the city was incorporated in 1957.

Paramount has designated the new housing area as a planned community. Zoning in the area, in the northeast part of the city, has been changed from industrial to residential. The area is bounded by Downey Avenue on the west, Lakewood Boulevard on the east, Contreras Street on the north and the renamed Somerset Boulevard on the south.

The area has not been declared a redevelopment area, but the city’s Redevelopment Agency is working with builders to develop it, City Manager William A. Holt said.

Hollingsworth said the 128 houses his company will begin building next year will be on 14 acres just south of the newly designated Somerset Boulevard. The houses are expected to sell for between $90,000 and $120,000--nearly twice the median value of Paramount homes in the 1980 Census.

First in 20 Years

“This is the first major development of single-family residences in the city in the last 20 years,” Hollingsworth said.

Changing Compton to Somerset is just one step in an effort to create an economically viable community, Holt said.

The city started redevelopment of the downtown area in early 1980, Holt said. The Redevelopment Agency bought more than 20 acres for about $10 million.

A 110,000-square-foot shopping center, anchored by Vons market, was built on the west side of Paramount Boulevard at Jackson Street. A 70,000-square-foot shopping center, anchored by Miller’s Outpost clothing store, is under construction on the east side of the boulevard at Jackson. Completion is expected by summer.

Work on a third retail center is to begin in January. The 70,000-square-foot development will include an Albertson’s Grocery Warehouse, satellite shops and a 5,000-square-foot restaurant.

Other Units Planned

In addition to the 128 single-family homes by Kaufman & Broad, more than 600 other housing units--including single-family homes, apartments and condominiums costing more than $50 million--are planned for the Somerset Ranch Community over the next couple of years, Holt said.

Joe Sinnott, president of Surfside Development Co., which recently built 66 apartment units in another section of the city and plans to build more than 600 apartment units in the Somerset Ranch area for more than $50 million, said the Hermosa Beach company is interested in Paramount because “they are building a new city. It’s a great opportunity.”

The largest potential area for housing, owned by the Paramount Petroleum Co., is 60 acres north of Compton Boulevard and within the planned Somerset Ranch community.

But Paramount Petroleum is being reorganized under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. A feasibility study on the 60 acres done by the company favored housing development but the company has not made a decision, said William Pennell, trustee in charge of the reorganization.

Paramount officials say they are pleased with the road their city is now traveling.

‘Cinderella Story’

“This isn’t bad for a city labeled a disaster city by the Rand Report,” said Powers, who calls his city’s revitalization efforts a “Cinderella story.”

The 1982 Rand Corp. report said Paramount--along with eight other southeast Los Angeles County communities--were in big trouble because of crime, low incomes, lack of growth and generally stagnant economies.

“We were already making progress when that report came out,” City Manager Holt said. “It was based on outdated information. Not even the 1980 Census.”

Even so, he added: “I can’t wait for them to see what we have done. Just wait until the 1990 Census.”


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