Pico. Figueroa. Spring.
We might walk, drive or bike the often-maddening grid of memorable Los Angeles streets, but knowledge of their namesakes remain elusive to even natives of the city.
Though L.A.’s history is one with many layers, our neighbors at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles have created an ingenious six-part YouTube series that peels these layers away, going behind Downtown’s landmarks and exposing the people and events related to some of the area’s oldest names.
Not surprisingly, many of the early street names can be traced back to the days when Lala Land was El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles and the first few videos in the series refer back to 1800s-era diseños, or maps, to show these origins.
Starting with Chinatown’s Ord Street — named for Edward C. Ord, who drew the first land survey of Los Angeles — the series discusses the reasoning behind Downtown’s street names such as Washington Boulevard, Pico Avenue and Alvarado Avenue.
As the city spread outward from the pueblo’s core, areas and streets bore the names of its Mexican history as well as Los Angeles’ first winemakers, landowners, developers, settlers and government officials.
But while some streets paid homage to people involved in their creation, others have been named for their physical landmarks (such as Downtown’s Aliso Street being named for its identifiable sycamore tree named El Aliso), national civil rights leaders (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard) or pay tribute to longtime local citizens (Georgia Street near the Staples Center).
Pairing old photographs and documents housed in the NHM’s own Seaver Center for Western History Research with current images of the streets being discussed, the videos are educational, but not boring. They acknowledge the city’s multicultural beginnings and put particular emphasis on the Mexican heritage that thrives today.
Easy to watch and guaranteed to teach you something new, the NHM’s “Street Names of Los Angeles — A History” series is one worth catching up with.