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City names stem from trees, ranches -- even a goddess

Times Staff Writer

A movie studio, a Roman goddess and a Native American tribe more than 1,000 miles away inspired a few city names in Los Angeles County. Each of the county’s 88 cities has its own story. Here’s how some of them got their names, along with the year they incorporated.

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Montebello (1920)

Harris Newmark, a merchant who later wrote a history of the Southland’s progress, joined several partners in purchasing Italian-born Alessandro Repetto’s 5,000-acre ranch in the East Los Angeles area in the 1880s. At the turn of the century, Newmark and a relative subdivided 1,500 acres, calling the community Newmark.

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At the same time, engineer William Mulholland was brought in to build the town’s water system. At his suggestion, the remaining land was called Montebello, meaning “beautiful mountain” in Italian.

About 1912, Newmark was absorbed by Montebello.

As a ploy to prevent the construction of a dump, Montebello briefly merged with Monterey Park.

Standard Oil discovered black gold in the Montebello area in 1917. Three years later, the community broke away and reincorporated as Montebello.

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Monterey Park (1916)

Known as Ramona Acres after the celebrated novel “Ramona” by Helen Hunt Jackson, the area was advertised as a “fog- and frost-free” neighborhood. Residents incorporated to prevent Alhambra, South Pasadena and Pasadena from dumping their sewage there.

About the same time, residents decided that a more verdant-sounding name would enhance the town’s image. So they called it Monterey Park, after the nearby Monterey Hills.

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Norwalk (1957)

For decades, Norwalk was known by such names as New River, Seven Sycamores, Sycamore Grove and Corazon de los Valles (Heart of the Valleys).

In 1869, Oregon brothers Atwood and Gilbert Sproul purchased more than 400 acres for $11 an acre. The town site was surveyed in 1874.

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The Sprouls called it Norwalk, which was derived from the North-Walk, a frequently used trail where the Anaheim Branch Railroad crossed.

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Palmdale (1962)

It was founded in 1886 by a group of Midwestern German Lutherans who mistook the desert’s Joshua trees for palms and named their town “Palmenthal.” In 1899, Palmenthal combined with a nearby town called Harold, forming the new town of Palmdale.

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Palos Verdes Estates (1939)

The name is derived from Canada de los Palos Verdes (Canyon of Green Trees), a peaceful area of willows and grass once owned by the Sepulveda family. The community was developed in the 1920s by a group of New York investors, including Frank Vanderlip, and landscaped by the famous Olmsted brothers. Half the area is city-owned parkland.

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Paramount (1957)

The community was created in 1946 with the merger of two towns, Hynes and Clearwater. The area was known for its hay and dairy cows. By the early 1930s, Hynes was the largest hay market in the world. Each day, the price of hay was set under the Hay Tree, which is still there, at Paramount Boulevard near Harrison Street.

Paramount Studios was the inspiration for the name -- both of the town and the boulevard that divided the two communities.

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Pasadena (1886)

In 1875, Indiana settlers named the area Pasadena, meaning “Crown of the Valley.” The name is derived from the language of the Chippewa tribe of Michigan. The settlers’ president sent a letter to a friend whose father had been a missionary among the Chippewa, seeking suggestions for a name, and received several phrases, all ending in Pasadena. Settlers overlooked another Indian tribe, the Hahamogna, which at one time lived along Arroyo Seco.

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Pico Rivera (1958)

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It was formed when two towns became one. Pico was named after Pio Pico, the last governor of California under Mexican rule. The northern part of the city, Rivera, was so named because it was between two rivers: the Rio Hondo and the San Gabriel.

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Pomona (1888)

Early settlers named the community Spadra, after Spadra Bluffs, Ark. But when the Southern Pacific Railroad made Colton the terminus of the line instead of Spadra, the decision meant the end of the line for the town and the beginning for Pomona.

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When the town incorporated, local fruit grower Solomon Gates won a town lot as a prize for suggesting the community’s new name. His inspiration: the Roman goddess of fruit and fruit trees.

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Rancho Palos Verdes (1973)

The community once was part of the vast Dominguez Rancho San Pedro, which was claimed and named by the Sepulveda clan in the early 1800s. The name means “ranch of the green trees or timber.”

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Redondo Beach (1892)

Developed in 1887 as a seaside resort, it was named after the adjacent Rancho Sausal Redondo, which means “ranch of the round willow grove.”

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Rolling Hills (1957)

This horsy hideaway was developed in 1936 by A.E. Hanson, who distinguished the gated community with single-story white ranch homes. The color, Hanson once wrote, was “to fit in with the emerald green of the new grain in the spring and would harmonize with the bare earth after the hay was baled in the fall.”

In Hanson’s book “Rolling Hills: The Early Years,” he said he had planned to call the area Folded Hills but changed his mind after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, which lent grim overtones to anything “folding.”

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Rolling Hills Estates (1957)

It was once part of A.E. Hanson’s dude ranch, which he called Rancho el Elastico because it began as a simple 1880s bunkhouse and grew into an estate. Others say the ranch derived its name from the tents the early ranchers used, which could be moved and enlarged, or stretched -- like elastic.

Hanson also named this community, where he lived.

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Rosemead (1959)

Meaning “Rose’s Meadow,” this community was named in honor of Leonard J. Rose, a celebrated vintner and horse breeder. He was most famous for his 1,300-acre Sunny Slope ranch in the Pasadena-San Marino area that produced brandy, sherry, port and dessert wines.

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cecilia.rasmussen@latimes.com

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Sources: “1000 California Place Names” by Erwin G. Gudde; “The Dictionary of California Land Names” by Phil Townsend Hanna; “Los Angeles A to Z” by Leonard Pitt and Dale Pitt; Chambers of Commerce and city websites; Los Angeles Times archives


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