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Transportation and Mobility

Dear LAist: Why Does LA Have So Many Roads With The Same Name?

A collage of blue street signs for 37th Street, 37th Place, and 37th Drive. The background is a grayed out sky and power lines.
Duplicate street names have sprung up as we've grown, but this batch of roads in L.A.'s Exposition Park has been around since at least 1902.
(Illustration by Caitlin Hernández/Photos by Suzanne Levy
/
LAist)
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Once you realize it, it’s hard to unsee: We have a lot of streets in Los Angeles that look like a copy and paste — same name but different suffixes. Why?

A resident asked LAist about this recently, so I looked for the answers. Their example was a group of parallel roads in Exposition Park. There’s 37th Street, 37th Drive and 37th Place, each one after the other (good luck getting mail there). Even in my own neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, I was able to find intersecting versions with Woodman Place and Woodman Avenue. These aren’t rare occurrences — they can be found all over L.A., confusing newcomers and lifelong Angelenos alike.

A screenshot of Google maps view of the three 37th roads by Raymond Avenue and Exposition Boulevard. They are horizontal roads placed consecutively on the map.
West 37th Street, 37th Place and 37th Drive, in all their confounding, mapped out glory.
(Courtesy of Google map data ©2023)

What’s up? Well, our streets, brimming with old L.A. history, are designed by a naming system that predates metropolis L.A., a sprawl it probably wasn’t intended for. Here’s how we got here.

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What’s In A Street Name?

Our roads should be best understood in two parts: the “basic” name and the suffix. Basic names are most anything that comes before the suffix, and they come from a variety of things (and some are strange). Mark Tapio Kines, the man behind the L.A. Street Names online database, has spent years finding out the history of our streets, boulevards and avenues.

“It's actually made driving a little more interesting because once I become familiar with the stories behind the streets, they’re weirdly poignant,” Kines said. “I think a lot of people don’t really understand that a lot of these street names go back to the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. The history is long gone, but the name is still there.”

Some street names have a legend. A typical method was to use the names as a homage to famous politicians, big real estate tycoons and geographical characteristics, or to use the developer’s suggestion. Alvarado Street is named after Alta California Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado, and Flower Street is thought to be named after a nearby hillside with wildflowers. Sometimes, a street got its name because of who lived there.

A man with a light skin tone smiles and takes selfie while standing outside. In the background is the neighborhood landscape with green plants, a bright blue and cloudy sky, and a view of Los Angeles towers in the distance.
Mark Tapio Kines as he stands on Blue Jay Way in the Bird Streets neighborhood above the Sunset Strip.
(Courtesy of Mark Tapio Kines)

Kines has researched hundreds of street names, sifting through tract records, census reports and more to find the answers. But even with all that effort, one truth remains: Not every street name has a story.

“Lots of times, civil engineers would name streets… they’d pick the names just out of idea files a lot,” Kines said. “That can be a little maddening because you know there’s no rhyme or reason to the street name.”

Ordinal numbered streets, including the 37th group, are an example of this. It’s a street naming convention applied when creativity isn’t needed, and most U.S. cities use it. In L.A., ordinal streets are numbered according to their distance from 1st and Main Street in downtown.

Today, local politicians and citizen petitions mostly rename existing streets. Think Vicente Fernández Street (previously Bailey Street) in Boyle Heights, Buscaino Way (requested by the City Council) on Harbor Boulevard and Obama Boulevard in Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park (previously Rodeo Road).

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How Do Those Suffixes Work?

If you look closely, you’ll notice that Rodeo Road turned into a boulevard. That reflects how the street has evolved. Suffixes function as more of a city planning tool and indicate things about features and use.

While these rules officially began in 1967, according to land development manuals, and have been updated since, we’ve used these suffixes for much longer. Whatever system was in place prior likely wasn’t as broad or detailed enough to be consistent in our vast county that’s grown to more than 50,000 streets.

These current rules are about direction, street width and design. According to the county’s Street Naming Committee, the most common street suffixes are used in these ways:

  • Avenue: A broad public street, mainly running north/south that’s “handsomely” designed with trees and at least 80 feet wide.
  • Boulevard: A broad public way, formally laid out and paved, that’s 100 feet or more wide. These are highly decorated, perhaps with special trees, medians and lighting.
  • Court: A rectangular pocket off a public way, or a “dead end” street that’s 50 to 70 feet wide.
  • Drive: A recreational or scenic way, could run through a park. Drives could be designed to match more of the natural environment’s flow, and are 50 to 70 feet wide.
  • Lane: A narrow passageway. 
  • Place: A short street or court that’s 50 to 70 feet wide.
  • Road: A general public way or highway connecting two or more areas that’s at least 80 feet wide.
  • Street: A public way that’s 40 to 80 feet wide, primarily running east/west.

So What’s The Deal With Those Three 37ths?

The blue 37th Street sign. In the background is the neighborhood street with parked cars and homes.
The duplicates could simply be because it was an easy method with how the roads were shaped and used.
(Suzanne Levy
/
LAist)

These road names have been around since at least 1902 in the Dodge Tract, according to L.A. County Public Works’ land records.

The streets are a sign that an old City Council motion didn’t go far enough. Many “duplicates” show up as place, lane, court, way or terrace because they’re in typically small areas that are adjacent to a highly used street. But in 1897, officials adopted a change to rename a lot of streets throughout the city that had the same basic names (e.g. there were three Walnut Streets that turned into Avenue 20 and Avenue 52).

It’s anyone’s best guess as to why the 37th group was named consecutively, but there’s a high chance it was due to the size and use of those streets at the time. Why come up with three names when you could pop on a nice place instead? You’d be hard pressed to find a major difference between all of these terms today because our streets have been redesigned and the way we use them has changed. But even the suffixes can tell us how the area has evolved.

“I would hope that when people kind of learn about the history of where they're from, they see that they're part of this larger, longer story,” Kines said. “And so hopefully, they will gain a greater sense of respect for where they live.”

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