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Racism Seen in Street Name Change : Redondo Beach: Move to rename stretch of Compton Boulevard considered a swipe at the predominantly black city of Compton.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amid allegations of racism, Compton Boulevard, which once ran from the San Gabriel River to Manhattan Beach, is on its way to being wiped off the face of the South Bay.

Redondo Beach--the only place west of the Harbor Freeway where Compton Boulevard hasn’t been renamed--is gearing up to change its name there to Marine Avenue for consistency’s sake, said City Councilman Ron Cawdrey.

Cawdrey said in an interview last week that, in January, he will propose renaming the thoroughfare within Redondo Beach. He said he expects no opposition to the change, which has already been undertaken in Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena and an unincorporated chunk of county land through which the boulevard runs.

The proposal, he said, would eliminate confusion about addresses on the mile-long stretch, which forms the boundary between Hawthorne and Lawndale, on the north side of the boulevard, and Redondo Beach on the south side.

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“We’ve been the lone holdout,” said Larry Cote, chairman of a local traffic committee in favor of the change. The only reason it has not been changed already, he said, is that the stretch runs through mostly industrial property, and until the adjacent cities changed the name on the north side of the street, nobody complained.

“It’s pretty silly for us not to go along with the other cities,” Cote said.

But in Compton, residents and city officials were offended by the development. Among all the major cross-streets in the South Bay that are named for cities--Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Torrance Boulevard, Redondo Beach Boulevard, Carson Street--the only one other cities seem to want to rename is the one bearing their city’s name, they say.

“Racism. That’s basically what I see,” said Robert Adams, a local funeral director and former 12-year member of the Compton City Council. “I guess they don’t want to be associated with the city of Compton.

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“I’ve lived in Compton 39 years, and I think Compton is one of the nicest cities around. We got first-class citizens here. Law-abiding citizens,” Adams said. “But the majority of those citizens are black, and you still have bigots out there.”

Added Compton City Councilman Maxcy Filer: “They know why they’re doing it. I don’t even want to make a supposition.

“If they feel that way, it’s all right with me. But I know what Compton stands for--neighborliness and community pride.”

In the tradition of such Los Angeles thoroughfares as Figueroa Street--which runs from the heart of Los Angeles to Wilmington, more than 20 miles away--the east-west artery named for temperance advocate Griffith D. Compton once ran from the eastern edge of Bellflower to the city limits of Manhattan Beach, where it has been known as Marine Avenue since the early 1900s.

With one gap, to make way for the Harbor Freeway, the boulevard cut proudly through seven cities, three slabs of unincorporated county land and the Los Angeles River bed.

But in 1986, it began losing ground.

First, at the behest of business owners, the city of Paramount renamed its two-mile stretch Somerset Boulevard. One business woman at the time said the change was needed because Compton was “well-known for . . . slums and strife.”

But city officials said the change was simply to help give Paramount an identity of its own. Efforts to take the name change east into Bellflower were rejected by that city’s Planning Commission that same year.

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Then in 1988, the trend moved west of the freeway, pushed forward by the owner of a furniture store on Gardena’s stretch of the street.

Chuck Nader said he initially wanted to clear up confusion over his furniture and mail deliveries, which were ending up at a Compton church with a similar address. His first suggestion was to rename the boulevard for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. But when Hahn demurred, Nader asked the city to call it Marine Avenue, “to enhance our real estate ties to the beach cities.”

Nader denied the move was “anti-Compton.” When the city passed the name change in April, “there were several blacks at the council meeting, and not a one of them spoke against it,” he said. In fact, he added, only three people wanted to keep the old name, all of them elderly residents who were used to calling it Compton Boulevard.

From Gardena, the trend moved westward, through Hawthorne, Lawndale, and a mile of unincorporated land where in October the county approved the name-change, also for consistency. Nader said he is “elated"--although, according to city officials, the Post Office will continue to honor both the old and the new addresses for at least a year.


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