Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: L.A.’s Hispanic History in Its Place Names

A detail of Ord’s 1849 survey of Los Angeles, showing street names in Spanish and English.

Hispanic Heritage and history have greatly contributed to the rise and evolution of California and Los Angeles from Spanish colonization through Mexican land grants to the rancho period and on to today. Many streets and cities in and around Los Angeles are named after significant people and places in this long Spanish history, though often corrupted or Anglicized over time. Edward O.C. Ord’s map in 1849 shows street names in English and Spanish, such as Calle Primavera and Spring, and Calle Principal and Main. The following is a small list of streets and place names that honor our Hispanic past.The cover of Don Normark’s Chavez Ravine 1949: A Los Angeles Story.

Named for Julian Chavez, a Mexican pioneer who served on the first Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Chavez Ravine later became a place for the infirm and poor. The steep canyon served as a potter’s field in the 1850s before Thomas Brooks bought part of the land in 1873. A smallpox infirmary was established on part of the land in the 1880s and the Barlow Respiratory Sanatorium for tuberculosis was founded in 1902. By the 1930s, the area was home to working-class Latinos. After World War II, the homes were condemned to build public housing in a project that was later scrapped. The site became the home of Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles Police Academy occupies a site near Dodger Stadium which began as the home of the Los Angeles Police Pistol Club in 1925.

Honoring General Jose Figueroa, Alta California governor from 1833 to 1835 and who helped oversee the secularization of California missions, Figueroa Street runs more than 30 miles from Wilmington to Eagle Rock and then over to La Canada Flintridge. It was originally called Calle de los Chapules (Grasshopper Street) before being renamed as Pearl Street in the 1880s and then changed to Figueroa. Over time, other street names were renamed Figueroa to create a major thoroughfare throughout the city of Los Angeles.

La Brea Avenue received its name from the large tar pits in what is now mid-city Los Angeles, discovered in 1875 when amateur paleontologists unearthed the remains of a prehistoric mammal trapped in the swampy black ooze, with finds continuing to this day. The 1828 Rancho La Brea covered much of the Mid-Wilshire for decades before subdivided.

La Cienega obtained its name from the Rancho Las Cienegas (“Ranch of Springs”) granted by Spain in 1823 to Don Francisco Avila, a former mayor of the Los Angeles pueblo. Running between El Segundo Boulevard in Hawthorne to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood and portions of which were first paved in 1923, the street stretches more than 13 miles.

Perhaps originally christened El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula before evolving into El Pueblo de los Angeles, Los Angeles, or City of Angels, was established as a pueblo for Spain in 1781 by 44 Mexican colonists at what is now just north of Los Angeles Plaza. Originally the home of the Tongva, Chumash, and Tataviam people for thousands of years, the city would evolve from its original Spanish origins into what Mexico called a city in 1835, before the California legislature incorporated it in 1850 as the city of Los Angeles.

Los Encinos State Park, originally a Gabrielino/Tongvan community, eventually grew into a 4,400-acre Mexican rancho granted in 1845 to Don Vicente de la Osa. By the 1860s and 1870s, it served as a stagecoach stop before the community of Encino grew up around it and later established it as a park.

Both a street and district, Los Feliz served as the name of the 6,600-acre Rancho Los Feliz granted to Jose Feliz, one of the Los Angeles pueblo co-founders, before being patented in 1871 to his daughter Maria Ignacio Verdugo de Feliz. Years later it was obtained by the notorious Griffith J. Griffith.


A 1929 drawing of Olvera Street by Los Angeles Times artist Charles Owens.

Saved from possible destruction and developed as a small shopping area by philanthropist Christine Sterling in 1930 along with the vintage Avila adobe, Olvera Street was originally called Wine Street before renaming in 1877 in honor of Judge Augustin Olvera, who fought for Alta California in the Mexican American War and helped negotiate peace with the Americans in 1847.

pico_and_sepulvedaPico Boulevard honors brothers Andres and Pio Pico, early leaders of what is now Los Angeles. Andres served as a military commander of the pueblo before surrendering to John C. Fremont and signing what is now known as the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847, turning California over to the United States. Older brother Pio served as a Mexican governor of California and saw the final secularization of the missions in his final term. In the 1860s, the brothers began selling their land to Anglo real estate developers who subdivided them into gentleman farms.

Named after the 4,449-acre Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas (“Meeting of the Waters”) originally granted to and later owned by Maria Rita Valdez de Villa before being obtained by Burton E. Green in 1906 to form Beverly Hills, the two mile long Rodeo Drive is now a major upscale shopping area.

Taking its name from San Fernando Rey de Espana Mission on its northern boundary, the San Fernando Valley stretches 260 miles from Calabasas and Canoga Park to Burbank and Universal City. Originally inhabited by the Tongva, Fernandeno, and Chumash tribes, Mission land passed into Spanish land grants as the missions were secularized, later obtained by the Picos and others like Isaac Lankershim and Isaac Van Nuys who subdivided the land into small tracts for gentleman farmers. The area has greatly influenced both history and popular culture.

Santa Monica, formerly Tongvan land, has two origin stories, one claiming that the Portola expedition in August 1769 named it after the May 4 feast day of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine; the other claims that Juan Crespi named it after a pair of springs that were reminiscent of tears she shed over her son’s impiety. It was first officially recorded on two land grants in 1839, and the town was mapped out by Nevada Senator John P. Jones on land he co-owned with Col. Robert S. Baker in 1875.

The longest street in the city and county of Los Angeles at over 42 miles, Sepulveda Boulevard honors cattle rancher Francisco Xavier de Sepulveda, whose Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica extended from a native Tongva pass in the Santa Monica Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The street was christened in 1925.

Verdugo Road honors California pioneer Jose Maria Verdugo, who in 1784 received the 36,000-acre Rancho San Rafael, the site of what is now Glendale, when he retired from the army of New Spain at the San Gabriel Mission. The family lost title in the 1860s during financial hard times. Originally called Main Road, the street stretched between Los Angeles and the Canada Valley through the Verdugo Land Grant.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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