The names of many Los Angeles streets have changed repeatedly over the years, reflecting the city’s transformation from a tiny Mexican colonial town to a booming metropolis. Some streets, predictably, honor war heroes and explorers. But others have been named for trees, actors, land developers and--in one case--the proximity of a bullfighting ring.
These days, it is not easy to change the name of a street. You must submit petitions signed by the majority of landowners along the route to the Land Development and Mapping Division of the Bureau of Engineering. After other residents get a chance to object, a name-change ordinance is drafted and sent to the local City Council member, the council’s Public Works Committee and, finally, the full council for approval.
People living along private thoroughfares may have to pay up to $1,000 to alter street signs. There is no charge, however, with a public street. It cost the city about $70,000 for new signs when Santa Barbara Avenue became Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 1982.
At last count there were 953 private and 8,845 public streets in Los Angeles. Since the mid-1930s, ordinances have required that the ones running north - south be called avenues and those running east - west be called streets.
Listed below are the current names of some of the city’s streets, the dates they were dedicated and some of their history.
Aliso Street: 1854 When early settlers arrived at the Los Angeles River (El Rio de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles de Porcinucula) by way of Mission Road, they picked as a nearby gathering point a huge sycamore that gave them shelter and became a landmark, “El Aliso.” That Spanish word for sycamore was later used to name the road carved out near the river, which then was not a concrete channel.
Alpine Street: 1887 Before it was named for one of California’s 58 counties, it had been known as the Street of the Virgins, a place where the young ladies of the pueblo strolled with their duenas (chaperones) past admiring caballeros (gentlemen).
Alvarado Street: 1855 Named after Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado, who in 1836 became the first governor to promote public education.
Arcadia Street: 1872 Arcadia Bandini, born in 1823, was the daughter of prominent ranchero Juan Bandini. She came to be regarded as one of the most beautiful belles of Los Angeles and was just 14 when she married 40-year-old Abel Stearns, who had come west from Massachusetts and acquired Southern California’s largest land-cattle empire. Stearns built a home for his bride one block south of the Plaza--the community’s central gathering area--and the house, called El Palacio, became the social hot spot. In 1858, Stearns constructed a two-story business block on Los Angeles Street nearby and called it Arcadia Block. The street was officially dedicated one year after Stearns’ death in 1871.
Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street: 1988 Running diagonally from 1st Street to the corner of 2nd and San Pedro streets in Little Tokyo, it was renamed from Weller Street last year to honor the Japanese-American astronaut killed in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. A century ago, it was used as a shortcut by stagecoaches carrying passengers from San Pedro to the Bella Union Hotel.
Beverly Boulevard: 1921 Beverly Farms, Mass. 25 miles north of Boston (Farms has since been dropped from its name) was where President William Howard Taft vacationed in 1900. Burton Green, founder of Beverly Hills, decided that a good way to lure people to his city would be to name it after the resort of Presidents. In 1906 Green had a street named after himself--Burton Way.
Broadway: 1890 Part of it was first called Calle Fortin--Fort Street--because it passed through the hilltop Ft. Moore. Another section was known as Eternity Street, because it led to a cemetery; Downey Avenue, after Gov. John G. Downey, and Buena Vista Street, whose “good view,” as legend has it, was the view from the hillside of the women’s bathing pools (where the senoritas wore bathing dresses). City officials eventually decided to rename Fort Street because the area’s many German citizens had trouble with the pronunciation--it would come out “Fourth Street,” causing confusion with a thoroughfare by that name. By 1910, all sections were dedicated under the one name, Broadway.
Crenshaw Boulevard: 1904 It was informally known as Crenshaw Boulevard as early as 1889 after George L. Crenshaw, an importer who earned a reputation as the “banana king.”
Cahuenga Boulevard: 1887 An Indian settlement in the middle of the pass at the lower end of the San Fernando Valley, Cahuenga was the site of the landmark Battle of Cahuenga. The Jan. 13, 1847, Treaty of Cahuenga, signed by Gen. Andres Pico and Col. John C. Fremont, ended the Mexican-American War in California and declared as part of the United States all land west of the Rocky Mountains, south of Oregon and north of Mexico. California officially joined the Union on April 4, 1850.
Chandler Boulevard: 1926 One of the most prominent thoroughfares in the San Fernando Valley, it was named for Harry Chandler, the partner and son-in-law of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis of the Los Angeles Times. Chandler became publisher of The Times in 1917.
Edward Everett Horton Lane: 1968 The Encino road was named for the late character actor, who was considered the honorary mayor of the community. After a successful film career, Horton’s voice became familiar to children as the narrator of the Saturday and Sunday morning Bullwinkle cartoon feature “Fractured Fairy Tales.”
Figueroa Street: 1855 North Figueroa was originally named Pearl Street and South Figueroa was called Calle de las Chapules--the Street of
Grasshoppers--because pedestrians used to leap about while sour-faced policemen whistled and chased the crowds from one corner to the other. From 1834 to 1845, Gov. Jose Figueroa, who was part Aztec Indian, directed the beginning of secularization of the territory, which had been under the control of its missions. After the padres lost their power, California experienced its first land boom. Eight million acres were acquired by fewer than 800 men, who created 500 ranchos.
Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko Way: 1978 The downtown route was named after a Polish revolutionary war hero who was recognized as a Renaissance man--a gifted painter, architect, composer, scholar and philosopher--whose scope of interests was a match for that of Thomas Jefferson.
Gower Avenue: 1893 Named because it ran along the west side of the ranch belonging to George T. Gower. California’s first films were made on the corner of Gower and Sunset Boulevard in 1911.
Grand Avenue: 1887 It originally was known as Calle de la Caritad--Charity Street--but when the English version of the name became popular, wealthy residents petitioned the City Council to change it. The problem was that, though early Spaniards interpreted “Charity” to mean “Christian love"--and other streets nearby were named Faith and Hope--to the prosperous residents the suggestion of handouts was too much to take.
Hill Street: 1849 Part of it--north of the Plaza--was first called Calle del Toro (Bull Street) because it ended at the ring where crowds gathered after Sunday Mass to see bullfights and occasional battles pitting a bull against a bear. But the ring eventually faded into oblivion and so did the name.
Hollywood Boulevard: 1910 Named by Horace Henderson Wilcox, who bought 120 acres in the foothills northwest of Los Angeles during the 1880s and called the area Hollywood. Several decades later, a group of businessmen developed a housing tract, Hollywoodland, and advertised it with a huge hillside sign, the “land” of which was eventually dropped. Another street in Hollywood, Wilcox Avenue, is named for the community’s founder.
La Brea Avenue: 1869 Named with the Spanish word for tar, which was found in nearby pits and used for waterproofing the sod roofs of the adobe houses in the Plaza. The street was part of the 4,439-acre Rancho La Brea, which in 1860 was purchased by Maj. Henry Hancock for $2.50 an acre.
La Cienega Boulevard: 1923 Cienega is Spanish for marshland. A section of the route was in an area that was always damp, and its grass was green throughout the year. Don Francisco Avila was given a grant to Rancho Las Cienegas in 1823.
Los Angeles Street: 1854 Before the first official survey of the area in 1849, most of this thoroughfare was called Calle Principal (Main Street). Other sections were known as Calle de la Zanja (Ditch Street), Calle de Los Vinas (Vineyard Street) and--much to the south--Calle de los Huertos (Orchard Street), which is now San Pedro Street. These formed the principal highway running south to the Embarcadero of San Pedro. At its northern end, near the Plaza, a 500-foot stretch was known as Calle de Los Negros, which had a racially diverse population. It was543780384hanged by a mob after two policemen and a policeman’s brother were shot trying to break up a fight. The extension of Los Angeles Street in 1886 eliminated the alley and today the site adjoins the Hollywood Freeway.
Los Feliz Boulevard: 1888 Named after Rancho Los Feliz, a Spanish land grant issued to Cpl. Jose Vicente Feliz, who led the first non-Indian expedition to what became the Pueblo of Los Angeles. Feliz led 11 families here from Sonora, Mexico, in 1781. Most of Feliz’s land was the Silver Lake area and the higher slopes of Griffith Park. Rancho Los Feliz sold in the 1850s for $1 an acre.
Main Street: 1849 The community’s first Calle Principal connected the San Gabriel Mission with the San Fernando Valley and many established ranchos. One section near the Plaza was known as Bath Street after, legend has it, the facilities featuring “scarlet women.”
Melrose Avenue: 1887 Ranch owner E. A. McCarthy named the route after his hometown of Melrose, Mass.
Olvera Street: 1858 Among the oldest streets of the city, it was named in honor of Agustin Olvera, one of the commissioners who signed the Treaty of Cahuenga. Olvera was the first judge of the County of Los Angeles and later was a county supervisor.
Olympic Boulevard: 1929 Named in honor of the upcoming 1932 Olympics.
Ord Street: 1890 Originally called High Street, this route off the Plaza was renamed after Lt. E.O.C. Ord, who conducted the 1849 official survey and drew the first map of Los Angeles, all for a fee of $3,000.
Owensmouth Avenue: 1917 Running from the base of the foothills, through the community of Owensmouth (known today as Canoga Park), it was named in commemoration of the water brought over the mountains to the San Fernando Valley from the Owens River. The river was named by one of California’s pathfinders, Maj. John C. Fremont, for a member of one of his expeditions, Richard Owen.
Pico Boulevard: 1855 Named after the 14th and last governor of California under Mexican rule, Don Pio Pico, whose grandfather and father had come to the area with a 1776 expedition. Pio Pico, who was born in 1801 at Mission San Gabriel, built the Pico House hotel, the first three-story building in Los Angeles, which still stands.
Sepulveda Boulevard: 1925 Named for the family of Don Francisco and Ramona Sepulveda, who had 11 children, all of whom inherited parts of their parents’ property and acquired more land through their marriages. The road was used by the Sepulvedas to transport their cattle, which were often attacked by grizzly bears.
Slauson Avenue: 1871 Extending from Whittier to West Los Angeles, it was named after Jonathan Sayre Slauson, leader of a group that in 1885 bought about 15,000 acres of rocky land in the San Gabriel Valley, of which about 4,000 acres were developed into the city of Azusa. Slauson also owned about 29,000 acres of what would become the city of South Gate, land sold off by his heirs in 1910 for $500 an acre. Slauson, who died in 1905, organized the Los Angeles County Bank, was a founder and promoter of the Los Angeles & Independence Railroad, the first rail connection between Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and helped organize the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
Spring Street: 1849 As legend has it, it was named Calle Primavera by Lt. Ord to honor his sweetheart in Santa Barbara, Trinidad Ortega, whom he called “Primavera,” Spanish for “Springtime.” He never married Ortega, the granddaughter of Jose Francisco Ortega, the Spanish explorer who “discovered” San Francisco Bay.
Sunset Boulevard: 1888 Earlier called Bellevue Street--and with some small sections called Short, Bread and Marchessault streets (after Mayor Damien Marchessault)--it started on U.S. Sen. Cornelius Cole’s hill in what is now Hollywood, which afforded a fine view of the sunset over the Pacific. By 1937, 11 streets in Hollywood were named after the Cole family.
Temple Street: 1859 Named after John Temple, who opened the first store in Los Angeles. He built a block of shops, lawyers’ offices and a saloon at Main and Temple streets, where Los Angeles City Hall stands today.
Vignes Street: 1874 Named for Louis Vignes, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1831 bringing cuttings from France that he used to found a 100-acre vineyard called El Aliso, where Union Station now stands.
Winnetka Avenue: 1916 An egg farm owned by Charles Weeks was in the Northwest San Fernando Valley during the 1920s and early ‘30s. Weeks modeled the poultry business on one he founded in Winnetka, Ill., before moving to California.
Wilmington Avenue: 1870 Phineas Banning, seeking to improve transportation in the area, bought some land near the ocean, which he called New San Pedro. He created a channel and built a wharf, warehouse, soap and tallow factory, and a blacksmith shop. In 1863, Banning changed the name of the community to Wilmington, after his birthplace in Delaware.
Wilshire Boulevard: 1895 Serving as a pathway from the Indian Village Yang Na (believed to have been where City Hall is today) to the Pacific Ocean, it originally was called Calle de los Indios. In 1895, H. Gaylord Wilshire, a real estate investor, subdivided a tract of land just west of downtown near MacArthur Park and renamed the street after himself. In 1922, lots on Wilshire Boulevard sold for $54,000.
SOURCES: El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park
Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, Land Development and Mapping Division.
A Short History of Los Angeles, by Gordon DeMarco.
Los Angeles Business Journal, Founding Fortunes.
Historical and Biographical Record of Los Angeles and Vicinity, by J.M. Guinn.
Los Angeles Times History Center.