Sunday, January 27, 2008

Happenings: Street Re-re-naming Rights County Wrongs

NOTE: Below, Tony Newhall describes and comments on the re-re-naming of San Fernando Road. This story shows us how quickly our own history can be forgotten. The names of places lose their connections to actual people, the way things were fades from know the drill. It also shows us how L.A. County has never once overlooked, ignored, or blatantly disregarded local concerns.

(Thanks also to Pauline Harte who relayed part of this chapter in SCVistory as a comment in an earlier post.)

The Santa Clarita City Council voted Tuesday night (January 22) to rename San Fernando Road (the portion from Hart Park south to Highway 14) as “ Newhall Avenue .” They voted also to rename the part of San Fernando Road running through downtown Newhall as “ Main Street .” I believe the part of San Fernando Road running north from Newhall to Magic Mountain Parkway will be renamed Bouquet Canyon Road (which makes sense), but I don’t think that’s resolved yet.

Some have decried this renaming local streets as revising history. It is far from it. When Henry Mayo Newhall laid out the town of Newhall in 1876, he named the streets after those in downtown Philadelphia where he worked as a surveyor in 1842. (Check the streets of downtown Philly and you’ll see such names as Walnut, Race, Arch, Spruce, Pine, Chestnut, etc.) H.M. Newhall named the main street through the downtown as Spruce Street . It remained that name for 77 years.

In 1953, the County of Los Angeles Surveying Department moved in and changed the name of three local streets – all without informing anyone here about it. They did this as part of their county-wide street naming and addressing system. Spruce Street was changed to San Fernando Road ; Pico Road was changed to Lyons Avenue ; and the tiny Hill Street was renamed Wayman Street . No one in town knew why they renamed Pico to Lyons ; it wasn’t for Sanford Lyon, the local stage station operator in the 1870s, because he spelled his name without an "s." And no one knew who “Wayman” was; it wasn’t in honor of Walt Wayman who had yet to establish himself in the community. The county simultaneously installed the five-digit countywide address system which haunts us today (you know, "23645," just one digit more than you can memorize).

So the City Council did right. It makes complete sense to eliminate the name San Fernando Road . Now the exit signs on the Highway 14 will read " Newhall Avenue ," and travelers will know they’re entering Newhall, not San Fernando .

This is not revisionist history. It is to right a wrong that was committed 55 years ago.

[1]Mr. Newhall cites the January 7, 1954 front page of the Signal as background for his writing.

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