‘Street Wars’ Over Name : Compton Blvd. Faces Identity Crisis
Call it the case of the incredible shrinking Compton Boulevard.
The cities of Hawthorne, Lawndale and Gardena are all considering changing the name of Compton Boulevard along a 6-mile portion of the street.
The proposed name: Marine Avenue.
If the change is approved, the three South Bay cities would be turning away from down-scale Compton and looking west to tonier Manhattan Beach, where the street has been called Marine Avenue since 1908, according to Manhattan Beach records.
The three cities wouldn’t be the first to abandon the name.
Compton Boulevard--an east-west artery that runs from the Manhattan Beach city limit through Bellflower--began losing ground in 1986, when business owners in Paramount successfully lobbied city officials to change the name of their 2-mile stretch of Compton to Somerset Boulevard. At the time, one businesswoman said the change was needed because Compton was “well-known for the slums and strife that existed there for the last 20 years.”
But Paramount officials denied the change had anything to do with Compton or its image. Last week Paramount Community Development Director Patrick West said the name was changed to help give Paramount its own identity.
But he acknowledged that no effort has been made to change the names of Downey or Lakewood boulevards, which also run through the city. He said no one has requested that their names be changed.
Officials in the cities affected by the latest proposal also say the change is not an effort to distance themselves from their neighbor to the east.
Instead, the intent is to end confusion over addresses, said Gardena businessman Chuck Nader, who originated the idea. Earlier this year, Nader asked the Gardena City Council to change Compton Boulevard to Kenneth Hahn Boulevard in honor of the longtime Los Angeles County supervisor.
When Hahn expressed reluctance at accepting the honor, Nader organized a committee of Gardena business people to discuss other possible names. The consensus they reached was Marine Avenue.
Calling the street Marine Avenue would “eliminate confusion of mailing and enhance our real estate ties with the beach cities,” said Nader, who has owned a furniture store on Compton Boulevard for 30 years. “The impact would be far more rewarding.”
People unfamiliar with Gardena often think that addresses listed on Compton Boulevard are in Compton, Nader said, adding that the confusion has worsened in recent years. Furniture shipments to his store, he said, often end up at a Compton church with similar address.
The proposal to rename the street is not “anti-Compton,” Nader said. “This is not a politically motivated scheme. This has only to do with property owners on Compton Boulevard.”
Compton City Councilman Maxcy Filer doesn’t buy it.
“I don’t believe that at all,” Filer said. “I think they’re doing the same thing that Paramount did. They’re looking at it from the standpoint that, allegedly, the name of Compton has a stigma attached to it. I think it’s disgraceful that they would think of changing it.”
Filer said a name change would be inconsistent with the history of Los Angeles County, where thoroughfares like Figueroa Street run from the heart of downtown Los Angeles to Wilmington, more than 20 miles away.
“They have ulterior motives,” Filer said. “The city of Compton has a great history . . . then all of a sudden when Compton becomes a predominantly black city, they can find every excuse in the world to take the name Compton away. I just don’t believe their motives.”
Whatever the motivation, Compton Mayor Walter Tucker said he isn’t concerned.
“I have no problem with people changing anything,” Tucker said. “We change names of schools and other things all the time. They can do what they like. That’s the least of my worries.”
Pattern Over Years
In recent years, others have cut their ties to Compton.
In 1985, the Dominguez Medical Center, a hospital located partly in Compton and partly in Long Beach, moved its mailbox to the Long Beach side and got a Long Beach mailing address.
And Carson residents who said they were afraid to go to the Compton courthouse to pay traffic tickets successfully lobbied earlier this year for a satellite court in their city.
So far this year, Compton, a city of 94,000, has had 63 homicides, about one for every 1,500 residents, according to the city’s Police Department. By comparison, in Carson, a city of about 89,000, there have been 33 slayings this year, or about one for every 2,700 residents, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
But Compton “doesn’t have any more problems than any other city,” Filer maintained. Crime “doesn’t stop at city boundaries. A thug knows no city boundaries.”
Property Owners Favor Change
In Gardena, a survey of Compton Boulevard property owners, requested by Nader’s committee of Gardena business owners, is running 60% in favor of the change, said City Manager Kenneth Landau.
“The city’s reacting to property owners in the area,” Landau said. “The idea is to name it Marine to be consistent with what Manhattan Beach has.”
Lawndale City Manager Daniel Joseph said his city is also taking a poll of property owners on the street to find out if they prefer Marine to Compton. Joseph said he had “never heard any talk of negative connotation” of the name Compton, and that Lawndale was doing its survey of property owners at the request of officials from Gardena.
In Hawthorne, City Council members have been studying the name change proposal for several months but there is no plan to vote on it, said public information officer Tom Quintana. He said Compton Boulevard in Hawthorne has only a few commercial buildings and no residents.
The street has been on the Manhattan Beach map as Marine Avenue for 80 years, said city civil engineer Jim McGovern. Around the turn of the century, the only developed section of the street, between Meadows and Redondo avenues, was named after another city--Chicago.
No Action Seen in L.A.
Compton Boulevard also crosses bits of the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated county territory.
“I haven’t heard anything about renaming it,” said Niki Tennant, a field deputy for Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores. “No one’s mentioned it.”
Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who represents the portion of Compton Boulevard in county territory, would likely go along with the change if the cities agree to it, said Dan Wolf, Hahn’s press deputy.
If the change is approved, the cities would have to pay for installing new street signs. Paramount spent about $6,000 for signs in 1986.
The change would also impact businesses and residents, who would have to buy new stationery and flood local post offices with change-of-address forms. Cities would have to notify various agencies, including fire and police services, post offices and map makers.
If the name change is approved, all that would remain of Compton Boulevard would be a couple of miles in Bellflower, and, of course, the part that runs through Compton.
In Bellflower, the Planning Commission rejected a proposal to rename Compton Boulevard in 1986, and the issue has not come up again, said Assistant City Administrator Craig Nealis.
Nor is it being considered in Compton, where residents still cling proudly to the name, Filer said.
“I’m not ashamed of the name Compton.” Filer said.