The man on the telephone sounded irritated.
"I like the name 'San Fernando Valley,' " he said. "I don't want you to change it. I think this is a silly game."
Hundreds of people thought the Rename the Valley contest was a nifty idea. Suggestions began pouring in the very morning The Times asked readers to concoct a catchy moniker that would solve the Valley's nagging image problem.
The You Name It hot line rang at all hours. People sent letters and Christmas cards. They also issued death threats.
"Enough is enough," wrote John F. Glass of Studio City. "I'd much rather see you ask for suggestions on how to solve the problems that initiated the name-changing."
A valid suggestion, indeed, but that sort of undertaking requires effort. This contest modeled itself after neighborhoods like the ones in Sepulveda and Canoga Park that have adopted fancy new names--North Hills and West Hills, respectively--to disassociate themselves from surrounding urban decay.
More than 400 entries arrived. A significant portion was born of sincere deliberation. They were inspired by local history or geography or by a deep appreciation for life in the Valley. Such suggestions were largely ignored.
Wit, sarcasm and outright self-hatred--these were the qualities that scored highest with the judges.
"Call it 'The Pit,' " suggested Lawrence Whitehorn of Tarzana.
Not quite clever enough, but he was on the right track.
The Grand Marshal's Sweepstakes Prize went to Thomas Rezzo of Canoga Park for "Twenty-nine Malls," a slick twist on the desert town of Twentynine Palms, the judges noted. Additionally, with a mere dozen gallerias and fashion squares currently blemishing the Valley, it gives developers something to shoot for.
Among other favorites were:
* "Rancho de los Ranchos." This entry pokes fun at the majestic and meaningless Spanish titles that often adorn cookie-cutter housing tracts. It has historic merit as well--the Valley was once a collection of ranchos.
* "Beige-Air." Say it fast, it's truly magnifique . And, as contestant Rick Sarabia pointed out, "in the Valley we have beige air."
* Alan Dickson originally submitted "Soviet Union" because the real Soviet Union isn't using that name anymore. Several days later, Dickson called back. "My wife, who dabbles in real estate, says the property values would be much better if we called it 'Soviet Union Hills.' "
Some of the Top 20, such as "McValley" and "Homes R Us," demonstrated a shopping-center savoir-faire, something we'll call consumerism spoonerism. "Cute North Lemon View Forest Bog" was supposedly constructed from the letters in the names of all the Valley's communities. The judges--a loose collection of Times employees and their relatives--did not bother to confirm this.
Mark Maxwell-Smith of North Hollywood scratched his way to the pinnacle of wordplay by submitting more than 80 tidbits, ranging from the sublime ("Suburbank") to the ridiculous ("Van Nuys-Capades").
"What a joke!" opined an anonymous caller, addressing exactly such excess. "I cannot believe you are wasting your time renaming the Valley."
The serious entries--not to be entirely ignored--focused on pleasant aspects of life in this arid hollow we call home.
More than a dozen contestants wanted to hang the word "Sun" or "Sunshine" on the Valley. Almost as many suggested we are actually living in "Paradise."
"How about Heavenly Valley"? asked Cecille Glance of Burbank. "Due to the fact that we enjoy living in the Valley so much and it's just a heavenly area."
Others gazed longingly astray, giving themselves over to the nervous twitch of community envy. Some wanted to be called "Beverly Hills North." Others fancied "North Malibu."
Ferris Kaplan deserves mention for taking this idea to the extreme.
"As someone who was raised in Canoga Park (er, West Hills), lived for many years in North Hollywood (er, Studio City) and currently resides in Van Nuys (er, Sherman Oaks), it saddens me to see neighbors selling out their community and renaming it for higher property values," Kaplan said. "So . . . the solution's easy: The entire valley should be called Beverly Hills and all streets renamed Rodeo Drive. Sure, it'll make getting around a little more difficult, but heck, not having to 'admit' being from Reseda, Tarzana or Panorama City is worth it."
The contest attracted invention of all sorts. Entries were submitted in Hindi ("Jalapahar," which means "Burnt Mountain"), French ("Outre Ville," as in "Outer City"), Latin ("Ave Atque Valley," which means "Hail and Farewell") and Spanish ("Zarzuela," meaning "Operetta," was among the most fluent and "Lave Sus Manos," translating to "Wash Your Hands," was among the wackiest).
Thomas Rezzo of Canoga Park commented on the local political scene, suggesting "Hal Bernson Development Corp." "Pangaea" is the geological term for the hypothetical landmass that split apart millions of years ago to form the continents. Another title, "CO2 Optare Azure," had the judges checking their Periodic Table of the Elements for the first time since high-school chemistry class. They still don't know what it means.
On the aesthetic front, Ruth S. Sippel of West Hills constructed a poem in dubious defense of her homeland:
Crowds seem to be growing,
the noise often's shrill
I still love my home
in the "Valley of the Hills."
Alas, with the educated and creative came the ignorant. A number of entries criticized ethnic groups with a sophistication of humor often heard on junior high playgrounds. Several other callers were driven to bursts of profanity or anger.
"If you want to name it something, why don't you call it 'The Valley Times' "? said James Reynolds of North Hills. "You can get it changed with your stupid articles."
Flattery, Mr. Reynolds, will get you nowhere. On the other hand, those whose entries gained favor with the judges will be rewarded.
Each of the Top 20 contestants will receive a copy of the book "Witness to War," a glossy, photograph-filled summary of the Persian Gulf conflict as reported by the Los Angeles Times. As if that weren't thrilling enough, The Times will send along a Valley Edition sweat shirt and coffee mug.
And, as promised, a letter will be submitted to the Los Angeles City Council humbly suggesting that the San Fernando Valley be renamed Twenty-nine Malls.
The last word on renaming the Valley, however, comes from an anonymous caller, an agitated voice that rattled the line on the first day of the contest.
"How come you are always trying to change the Latin names?" he asked. "Why don't you change Van Nuys or Sherman Oaks or Tarzana or Woodland Hills? You should be shot."
He has a point. Let's hope he doesn't have a gun.
AND THE WINNER IS . . . "Twenty-nine Malls," by Thomas Rezzo of Canoga Park
Runners-up: "Absolutely Not Sepulveda," Gary Bolen, Studio City. "Beige-Air," Rick Sarabia, Burbank. "Benz in the Hood," Mark Maxwell-Smith, North Hollywood. "The Bermuda Rectangle," Eric Goldberg, Thousand Oaks. "Cute North Lemon View Forest Bog," John Chady, Canoga Park. "Hellish Pit O' Despair," Jim Cody, North Hollywood. "Homes R Us," Joseph N. Feinstein, Sherman Oaks. "La Flatulencia," Bennett J. Mintz, Chatsworth. "La Madre de Todos los Valles," Richard Raphael, Woodland Hills. "Minimallia," Ken Drucker, Topanga. "McValley," Michael Silverstein, Sylmar. "El Rancho de la Mall," Jay Berger, Northridge. "Rancho de los Ranchos," Elizabeth Bates Freed, Los Angeles. "Soviet Union Hills," Alan and Barbara Dickson, Sherman Oaks. "Suburbank," Mark Maxwell-Smith, North Hollywood. "USSR=United Status Seekers Republic," Judy Malvin, Canoga Park. "Valle de Nada," Ann Kenney, North Hollywood. "Valley of the Malls," Larry Zemliak, Castaic. "West Emphysema," Matthew Brown, Woodland Hills.
Earnest Efforts Follow Your Heart Los Angeles: Elizabeth Teicher, Burbank Golden Valley: Blanche Maine, Northridge Golden Sunshine Valley: Robert Torres, Redondo Beach Golden State Valley: Frank Alexander, Valencia Greystoke Estates: Stanley Landes, Tarzana Heather Vistas: Sheila Kent, Woodland Hills Mulholland Valley: James Pappas, Calabasas Paradise: Doris Benson, North Hills Paradise Bluffs: Christie Logan, Woodland Hills Paradise Meadows: Sheila Rossi, Woodland Hills Paradise Valley: Tom Elwood, Van Nuys Rancho de los Amigos: Sandra Briggs, Sylmar Santa Maria Valley: Gina Ortiz, Van Nuys Sepulveda: David Hyman, North Hills Stellar Grove: Lori Butler, Studio City Sun City: Gina Ortiz, Van Nuys Sunshine Valley: Fausto M. Camu, Encino Valley of the Sunshine: Sandra Briggs, Sylmar El Pueblo del Sol: Pauline Stowe, Calabasas Wonderful Wonderland: Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Swartz, North Hills
UFOs Callithump (means boisterous parade), John Chady, Canoga Park. Calzana Jungapanga (Calabasas , Tarzana, Tujunga and Topanga combined), West Valley Library. Dingle 818 (Dingle means Valley), Rick Sarabia, Burbank. Jupiter (If you live here, no explanation necessary), Dave Clowe, North Hollywood. Kelly Johnson City (Johnson was a Burbank aircraft designer), David Thomas, Glendale. LA 2 (The Valley isn't a town, it's a sequel), Michael Silverstein, Sylmar. Porciuncula (Father Crespi's name for Los Angeles River), Marion Stanley, Van Nuys. South of the Boulevard (because everyone wants to live there), Rose Ross, Woodland Hills. Van Chat Veda Park (Connects the corners of the Valley), John Mcnamie, Canoga Park. 5405118210170134101 (Freeways in the Valley), Thomas Rezzo, Canoga Park.