CLOSE
Original image
Wikimedia Commons

How Los Angeles Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Original image
Wikimedia Commons

The divide between the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles can feel like one between cities, and in some cases—like West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Culver City—it literally is. But residents of L.A. really do place stock in the neighborhood they live in, whether it be on the Westside or Eastside, downtown or nestled in the hills.

L.A. is a big place—the Los Angeles TimesMapping L.A. project has 272 neighborhoods in the city. Outlining the origin of all their names would be a project worthy of a large research university. In order to make this both manageable and comprehensible, I stuck to the neighborhoods and cities within a few areas of the Times’ map: the Westside, South L.A., Central L.A., Southeast, Eastside, and Northeast L.A. This leaves out the many valleys and mountains and bays that make Los Angeles County so sprawling, but it also hits most of the places you’d think of as L.A. proper. I also didn’t explain all of the many variations on Beverly, Hollywood, and some others, as well as many hyphenates and neighborhoods named after streets.

Apologies in advance to all those excluded. You’re still great.

Artesia

Wikimedia Commons

Artesia was named for the area’s large number of Artesian wells, which are stored pockets of groundwater that sometimes flow to the surface. Because of the wells, Artesia eventually became a major dairy district in the early 1900s.

Atwater Village

This land was owned by the family of Harriet Atwater Paramore when it was subdivided in 1912, hence the name.

Baldwin Park

The legend behind Baldwin Park’s name is a weird one. According to the city’s website, a man named “Lucky” Baldwin wanted to start a town nearby called “Baldwinville.” At the time, Baldwin Park was known as Vineland, and they invited Lucky Baldwin to a town meeting to discuss the idea. As he entered, the over-80-year-old Baldwin fell, but one of the town’s residents caught and saved him. Out of gratitude, he decided not to start Baldwinville, and Vineland took on the name Baldwin Park.

Bel Air

Immortalized by The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wealthy neighborhood was named by the wife of rancher Alphonso Bell, who founded the community in 1923. She came up with the Italian name of “Bel Air.”

Bell

Bell was actually founded by Alphonso Bell’s father, James George Bell, whose family moved there to start a ranch and farm. Their former home, the Bell House, is now a historic landmark.

Bellflower

Bellflower came out of a bit of a controversy. The name Somerset was already taken by a town in Colorado, and the U.S. Post Office rejected the town’s residents’ request for that name in 1909. A few different explanations for the city's eventual name exist, but its website says that the most common one comes from the town’s orchard of Bellefleur apples.

Beverly Hills

One of the most famous places in the United States, Beverly Hills’ naming shows how random these things can be. Burton E. Green acquired the land in the early 1900s in order to look for oil. Instead, he found water, and he named the city after a farm he loved in Massachusetts.

Boyle Heights

Kristy Plaza, Flickr

Boyle Heights was named after Andrew Boyle by his son-in-law, William Workman. Boyle planted vineyards and lived on the land in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Carthay

The name of Carthay is an Anglicized derivation of J. Harvey McCarthy’s surname, but it has also become more or less indistinguishable from the Carthay Circle Theater, his landmark Hollywood movie house in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is often referred to now as Carthay Circle.

Century City

Century City went from being a ranch to a 20th Century Fox backlot before Fox sold it for $50 million to finance the making of Cleopatra. Now a “city within the city” that houses the headquarters of enormous entertainment companies like CAA, the project was so ambitious at the start that the joke around the name, which was derived from the studio’s, became that it would take a century to finish.

Cerritos

Prayitno, Flickr

Cerritos used to be called “the City of Dairy Valley,” which might be the best name I’ve ever heard for anything. But as the price of land changed, the city shifted its focus from agriculture to development, and the name changed along with it. Cerritos came from the nearby Cerritos College, as well as the 1834 Spanish land grant Rancho Los Cerritos. (Cerritos means “little hills.”)

Commerce

The city was renamed as such in the 1940s to promote commerce. Makes sense!

Compton

Long before N.W.A. repped Compton, Griffith Dickenson Compton made his way to the area in 1867, and the town is named for him.

Cudahy

Cudahy is named after a meatpacker named Michael Cudahy who used the area to raise sheep and hogs in the late 1800s.

Culver City

One of the major parts of Los Angeles that is actually its own city, Culver City was named after Harry Culver, who founded the city in 1917. His ad campaign of “All Roads Lead To Culver City,” combined with luring Thomas Ince’s studio operations there, helped make Culver City one of the main centers of Hollywood operations.

Downey

John Gately Downey has a few different distinctions. Thirty three years old at the time of his election, he remains the youngest man to ever be elected Governor of California, and prior to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was the only one to have been born outside the United States. An Irishman, Downey founded the town of Downey, which became a common place for Irish immigrants to settle.

Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock is named for a large rock near the neighborhood that—surprise!—looks like an eagle.

Echo Park

AndrewGorden, Flickr

Echo Park’s name is generally chalked up to a few different, possibly apocryphal stories of workers hearing their voices echo off either bluffs around the park or a dam they were building.

Glassell Park

meltwater, Flickr

An attorney named Andrew Glassell acquired the land that would later become Glassell Park in 1871, and when he and his family began living there, many of the neighborhood’s streets were also named after his relatives.

Green Meadows

Green Meadows is notorious for being very different than its name might suggest—no meadows, not green. But it received the name in 2001 from the 8th District Empowerment Congress, which was attempting to connect neighborhoods in South L.A. to their histories by giving them the names formerly possessed by tracts of land in the same areas. (This is true for a number of other South L.A. neighborhoods, which is why they aren’t on this list.)

Griffith Park

Justin Vidamo, Flickr

The man Griffith Park is named after had not just one, but two Griffiths to offer: Colonel Griffith J. Griffith. Griffith started an ostrich farm on the land, and later donated much of it to the city—perhaps an attempt to atone for the 1903 shooting and killing of his wife, for which he spent time in jail.

Hancock Park

Konrad Summers, Flickr

Hancock Park is named for the Hancock family, specifically G. Allan Hancock, who inherited the land from his father and then developed it for residential use.

Hollywood

You’ve possibly heard of this one? One of the early settlers of Hollywood, Harvey Henderson Wilcox, wanted to name his new land “Figwood,” but he was (wisely) overruled by his wife, who picked up the name Hollywood from a Dutch woman she met on a train. The name was reinforced as it was then used for the main boulevard in town as well as the hotel, which began construction in 1902.

Huntington Park

Ken Lund, Flickr

Huntington Park is named for railroad man and collector Henry Huntington, who also lent his name to Huntington Beach and a hotel, library, botanical gardens, and other places throughout L.A.

La Mirada

La Mirada was actually founded by the mapmaker Andrew McNally, who, along with William Rand, formed Rand McNally. McNally was processing olive oil in the area, and the land passed down through his family. Eventually, after becoming famous for the detail of its planning and development, it was incorporated into Los Angeles, and in 1960, voters changed the name to La Mirada, which is Spanish for “the look.”

Lincoln Heights

Corona, Flickr

As a neighborhood, Lincoln Heights has a longer history than most current areas of L.A.—it’s been a suburb of downtown since the late 1800s. It was referred to as East Los Angeles at first, but in 1913, Abraham Lincoln High School was built nearby, and in 1917, the community voted to rename the neighborhood Lincoln Heights.

Los Feliz

Los Feliz is named for Rancho Los Feliz, which used to be on the territory that the neighborhood now occupies. But the way you pronounce the name is still up for debate—there’s a schism in Los Angeles over whether to pronounce it according to the Spanish way, “Los Fey-LEASE,” or in a more Anglicized fashion, as “Los FEE-lus.”

Lynwood

Not a bad gift to your wife—the dairyman C.H. Sessions named the acres and creamery he’d obtained after his wife, whose maiden name was Lynne Wood. As the area grew, a railroad station took the name Lynwood as well, and it spread from there.

Malibu

The area where Malibu now exists used to be occupied by the Chumash tribe, which called it Humaliwo, meaning “the surf sounds loudly.” If you’ve ever been to Malibu, you’ll know that this is an apt name. Eventually, Humaliwo became “Malibu,” as the “hu” isn’t emphasized in the original Native American word.

Mar Vista

cubby_t_bear, Flickr

In 1923, George Sunday, the son of evangelist Billy Sunday, came up with the name Mar Vista, which is Spanish for “sea view,” when he was naming a subdivision in the former neighborhood of Ocean Park Heights. Santa Monica and Venice tried to annex Mar Vista in the following years, but it became incorporated by Los Angeles in 1927.

Maywood

Strangely, Maywood, like Lynwood, is also named after a woman by the last name of Wood. This one’s first name, as you might expect, was May, and she agreed to allow the real estate corporation she worked for to use her name when they originally divvied up the ranch that was on the property into individual homes.

Montebello

The name Montebello was provided by hydraulic engineer William Mulholland, who would eventually become the namesake for the famed Mulholland Drive. “Montebello” means “beautiful mountain” in Italian, which also means it could be the name of any neighborhood in southern California.

Norwalk

Norwalk was the idea of the two Sproul brothers. They named the land they purchased in 1869 “Norwalk” after North-walk, a trail that crossed the Anaheim Branch Railroad.

Pacific Palisades

The idea of “Pacific Palisades” is very literal: it comes from the neighborhood’s location right on the Pacific Ocean and the resemblance of the cliffs overlooking the ocean to the Hudson River Palisades in New York. Originally founded as a possible religious commune, the area is now famous for beautiful homes, wealth, and those cliffs.

Palms

Ryan Vaarsi, Flickr

Originally known as La Ballona, Palms earned its name when contractors rode in in 1886 and planted thousands of palm trees as a way of prettying up the land they were about to sell. The neighborhood was first called “the Palms,” but like Facebook, it would eventually drop the “the.”

Paramount

One of the more interesting subplots in the development of L.A. was the constant annexation and territorial battles between different neighborhoods and cities within the county. Paramount, which took its name from a major north-south street—and shares it with one of Hollywood’s largest film studios—had to survive the attempts of a number of nearby neighborhoods to absorb it before eventually being incorporated as a city in 1957.

Pico Rivera

Pico Rivera takes the first word in its name—which is also the name of a large east-west boulevard, as well as included in a number of other neighborhoods—from Pío Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, before it transferred into the hands of the United States following the Mexican-American War.

Playa del Rey

Playa del Rey means “beach of the king” in Spanish, and it came to be the major name for the neighborhood, following earlier uses of "Palisades del Rey" and simply "Del Rey" by the contractors and developers who turned it into a residential area.

Santa Fe Springs

Santa Fe Springs takes its name from the Santa Fe Railway. Santa Fe means “Holy Faith,” and it stems from the former full name of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís.”

Santa Monica

Although there are counter-narratives, one of the most common explanations for the name of Santa Monica is that a group of Spanish explorers found some springs while they were traversing the coast. It was either the feast day of St. Monica, or the springs reminded them of the tears that St. Monica cried for her son Augustine, and they named the area Santa Monica.

Silver Lake

Jeremy Levine, Flickr

Silver Lake shares its name with the neighborhood’s reservoir, which, in addition to the hills and architecture, gives the area much of its beauty. Both are named after Herman Silver, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Water commissioners who served as the superintendent of the United States Mint in Colorado and worked with the railroads before ending up in California due to his health.

University Park

University Park is the neighborhood in which the University of Southern California is located, along with Mount St. Mary’s College and Hebrew Union College.

Venice

Most visitors to Venice will immediately see its network of canals, lined with beautiful homes, and connect the name to the canals of Italy’s Venice. And it’s true that Venice, Los Angeles is named after Venice, Italy, but the name actually preceded the canals. Founded by Abbott Kinney, whose name is now shared with one of the neighborhood’s main streets, Venice was at first called “Venice of America” and was designed as a resort town. Kinney had the canals dug to drain the neighborhood’s marshes as well as to resemble the ones in Italy, but with the advent of the automobile, they fell out of use. The canals weren’t renovated and repaired until 1993, but since then, they’ve become one of the centerpieces of L.A.

Vernon

According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mapping project, Vernon had a population of only 94 in the 2000 U.S. Census, which gives it one of the lowest population densities in L.A. County. The neighborhood was founded as a primarily industrial area, with a focus on railroads, and the men who founded it named Vernon after a dirt path running through the center.

Watts

Owing to the Watts Towers and the Watts Riots in the mid-1960s, the name Watts was originally taken from a developer named Charles H. Watts, who purchased the land that now makes up the neighborhood in order to farm livestock.

Wilshire

InSapphoWeTrust, Flickr

The neighborhood of Wilshire is named for the boulevard that runs through it, one of the major roads in Los Angeles. That boulevard is named for the developer Henry Gaylord Wilshire, a socialist who donated part of the land the boulevard now lies on to the city.

Windsor Square

Windsor Square sounds like what a mansion in the English countryside might be called, and there’s a reason for that. Developer Robert A. Rowan and his associates intended for homes in the neighborhood to be reminiscent of that setting. Prices for home deeds in the area were set high so as to facilitate the building of large homes by the wealthy, and the area became one of the most upscale in urban Los Angeles.

Corrections have been made for Atwater, Paramount, and Pico Rivera.

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
geography
10 Pirate Landmarks You Can Visit
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hungering for a scurvy-ridden romp across the seven seas? We’ve mapped out an international journey that will take you through 10 historic places with maritime yarns to unravel. From a rediscovered wreck to the site of real buried treasure, these locales will set your timbers a-shivering.

1. THE QUEDAGH MERCHANT, CATALINA ISLAND, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1695, Scottish privateer William Kidd was hired by an English governor to fight pirates in the Indian Ocean. But he made one critical mistake. On January 30, 1698, he captured the Quedagh Merchant, a treasure-laden ship flying a French flag. Since England was at war with France, Kidd believed he had a legal right to seize this ship. However, a nobleman who stood to lose his riches on board complained to the British East India Company, which put out a call for Kidd’s arrest. Unable to prove his innocence, Kidd was convicted and hung by an English court in 1701.

As for the Quedagh Merchant, Kidd had abandoned the vessel and its final resting place remained unknown for centuries. Marine archaeologists discovered the wreck off the coast of Catalina Island in 2007. The site is now a protected marine area where divers can read about its history on underwater plaques.

2. FOX POINT, ST. GEORGE ISLAND, FLORIDA

Kristenlea71 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Born in Maryland, William Augustus Bowles was a British loyalist during the Revolutionary War. While stationed in Pensacola, Florida, he married into the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and, later, fought on behalf of both nations against Spain in the Gulf of Mexico. Bowles would later establish himself as a pirate and self-appointed representative of the Muscogee Nation, and secured Great Britain's support for establishing an independent Muscogee Republic. In those roles, he attacked numerous Spanish ships and was arrested by the Spanish authorities. He escaped from prison and was on his way back to Florida in the British schooner HMS Fox when it went aground on St. George Island at a site now called Fox Point. A historical marker commemorates the Fox’s wreck.

3. A REAL BURIED TREASURE SITE, GARDINER’S ISLAND, NEW YORK

Howard Pyle, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Contrary to popular belief, most pirates did not bury treasure. (People who steal loot generally want to spend it right away.) In fact, the only pirate known to have stored booty underground was William Kidd. Prior his arrest by the British authorities in 1699, Kidd paid a visit to Gardiner’s Island, a spot between the forks of Long Island. Its owner, John Gardiner, agreed to let Kidd bury some valuables there. Accounts differ about what happened next. Some sources say that Gardiner decided to come clean and tell the colonial governor, Lord Bellomont, about the treasure. Others say that Bellomont learned of its whereabouts directly from Kidd. Either way, the loot was exhumed and taken to Boston. The gold, silver, and other valuable items were worth more than $1 million in today's U.S. dollars. Today, a stone plaque marks the spot.

4. DUNGEON ROCK, LYNN, MASSACHUSETTS

Ejkastning, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1658, a group of buccaneers landed in Lynn, Massachusetts. Most were arrested, but a pirate named Thomas Veal escaped into the forest. Legend has it that a huge geologic formation now called Dungeon Rock became his hideout. Once a spacious cave, it was reduced to a pile of boulders by an earthquake, entombing Veal and his treasure within.

Almost a century later, a spiritualist named Hiram Marble, who believed Veal's ghost had contacted him from the afterlife, bought Dungeon Rock. He and his son, Edwin, spent their lives digging for the treasure but found nothing. Since then, the site has been incorporated into the Lynn Woods Reservation. A door bars the entryway to the rock's interior, which is open to visitors during certain times of the year. Nearby, you can pay your respects to Edwin Marble at his modestly marked grave.

5. LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Lafitte’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but he arrived in New Orleans around 1806 with his (alleged) brother, Pierre. They organized a fleet of smuggling vessels and conspired with potential business partners at a colleague's blacksmith shop on Bourbon Street. Now a popular bar, the building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

During the War of 1812, Lafitte offered his ample supplies, experienced sailors, and local knowledge to the American forces under General Andrew Jackson, in exchange for the release of some of Lafitte's men then in prison. At the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-15, Jackson's and Lafitte's forces helped repel the British attack, and the two Lafitte brothers both received federal pardons.

6. LAFITTE’S FORMER STOMPING GROUNDS, GALVESTON, TEXAS

DHuss/iStock

Soon after the Battle of New Orleans, the city's elites grew tired of tolerating the Lafittes. In 1817, Jean Lafitte decamped to Galveston, Texas, with seven ships and a few dozen followers. They established a town called Campeche with its own boarding house, taverns, and courts, while continuing to prey on Spanish ships in the gulf and operating a large slave market. In 1821, the U.S. government ordered them to clear out. Nothing can be said with certainty about Lafitte's post-Galveston exploits. Just like his origins, Jean Lafitte’s fate remains the stuff of speculation.

A relic from his time in Galveston can be found at 1417 Avenue A, where Maison Rouge, Lafitte’s home and fortress, once stood. The grounds are protected by a chain-link fence, which also surrounds the remnants of a second building that was built on top of Maison Rouge’s foundation in 1870. Learn more at Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast, a local attraction which focuses on Lafitte’s life and deeds.

7. PLUM POINT, BATH, NORTH CAROLINA

m kasahara, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blackbeard—whose real name was either Edward Teach, Edward Thatch, or some variant thereof—settled in Bath, North Carolina, for a brief period of quasi-retirement beginning in 1718. His place of residence was reportedly somewhere on Plum Point, an outcropping which cuts into Bath Creek. Despite his track record of plundering and theft, he was constantly getting dinner invitations from curious families. According to regional lore, he paid multiple visits to the Hammock House, an elegant white building thought to be the oldest surviving house in Beaufort, North Carolina. This city is also home to a gigantic Blackbeard statue on U.S. Highway 70. Beaufort’s branch of the North Carolina Maritime Museum contains numerous Blackbeard artifacts.

8. A PIRATE-FILLED CEMETERY, ILE SAINTE-MARIE, MADAGASCAR

JialiangGao, Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

In the Age of Sail, pirates operated in nearly all of the world's oceans. Île Sainte-Marie, near Madagascar, was a magnet for pirates back in the 17th and 18th centuries. The island had plentiful fresh fruit to prevent scurvy and convenient natural harbors for safe anchorages. So many crews visited the island regularly that trading posts run by and for pirates became a vital part of the local economy. In its heyday, more than 1000 pirates lived on the island. A great many now lay buried in a cemetery near Ambodifotatra, Île Sainte-Marie’s biggest city. The 30 on-site tombstones of pirates can be identified because they were given etched-in skulls, crossbones, or both.

9. BLACK BART’S MEMORIAL STONE, CASNEWYDD-BACH, WALES

Daniel Defoe, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Typically cited as the most successful pirate of all time, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was born in the Welsh village of Casnewydd-Bach in 1682. In 1719, the crew of the slave ship he worked on elected Roberts, an experienced navigator and seafarer, as their new captain. Roberts really seemed to like the name Royal Fortune, which he gave to multiple ships. He also authored a pirate’s code of conduct for his crew in 1721.

The dreaded “Black Bart” would seize more than 400 ships before he died in battle on February 10, 1722. His hometown acknowledges its native son with a memorial stone on the village green.

10. BLACKBEARD’S POINT, HAMPTON, VIRGINIA

Charles Ellms, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our adventure ends with a visit to a place that once displayed Blackbeard’s severed head [PDF]. North Carolina's governor, Charles Eden, granted the pirate a pardon in exchange for a hefty share of his loot, which upset the colony's wealthy planters. The elites asked Virginia's governor, Alexander Spotswood, to get rid of Blackbeard permanently. Spotswood sent a naval force led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard to engage the pirate's crews in combat. Maynard caught Blackbeard by surprise in North Carolina's Ocracoke Inlet, and a great battle ensued, with Maynard coming out on top. Blackbeard was killed in the fight and Maynard mounted the pirate's head on the bowsprit of his ship on their way back to Virginia. Later it was suspended from a pole at Tindall’s Point, at the confluence of the James and Hampton rivers, where it served for several years as a warning to anyone else with piratical designs. Tindall Point is now called Blackbeard’s Point.

Original image
Prof Kenneth Myers
arrow
geography
Most of the World’s Population Lives Within This 2500-Mile Radius
Original image
Prof Kenneth Myers

The Earth gets more crowded each year. In just the past decade, the planet has welcomed about 1 billion new residents. The biggest contributors to the booming population are a handful of countries, and most of them fall within a 2500-mile radius.

As friend of Mental Floss Ken Jennings writes for Condé Nast Traveler, the Valeriepieris circle covers more than half the world’s population. China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, plus Indonesia (the fourth) and Pakistan (the sixth), are all part of a section of Earth that stretches 2500 miles in all directions from a central point near Hainan, China's southernmost area. Bangladesh, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, which all place in the top 15 most populous countries, are also included.

Not only are the populations of these places high, they’re also dense. In Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka, for instance, every square mile holds about 115,000 citizens. (For comparison, New York City, America's most densely populated city, counts roughly 27,000 per square mile.) That explains how this circle can house billions of humans while also containing a lot of open ocean and empty desert.

The Valeriepieris circle is named after the American Reddit user who first shared the map in 2013. His real name is Ken Myers, and he was inspired to create the graphic after visiting Manila in the Philippines for a teaching fellowship and seeing firsthand how many people were crammed into the tight area. The math was checked by Singapore economics professor Danny Quah years later, and he found that Myers had actually been generous with his calculations. Narrow down the circle to a 2050 mile radius, with Mong Khet in Myanmar as the center point, and it still fits close to half the world’s people.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios