Pity the poor tourists of the future. One of the most short-sighted and, frankly, minor-league things about Los Angeles is that today's politicians too easily give in to the urge to name things — buildings, freeway legs, intersections — for people. Alive or dead, famous or not. Now you can add to this bush-league trend the naming of transit stations. You might think that, like in London or Paris or New York or San Francisco, the names of stations would generally be reserved for labels that help riders figure things out geographically. Well, not so much in LA going forward.
Today the Metro board renamed the Civic Center station on the Red Line the Civic Center/Grand Park/Tom Bradley Station. OK, adding Grand Park makes sense. People are coming downtown looking for the new park, and the station is right there. But Tom Bradley? Nothing against the late mayor and his part in bringing the subway to Los Angeles. He's three mayors ago now, about to be four. The randomly affixed name will befuddle many riders today, commuters and tourists alike; imagine in 20 or 50 years when half the city's landmarks have some form of Villaraigosa in their name
With today's vote, the Purple Line station formerly known as Wilshire/Western will now be known as the Wilshire/Western/Alfred Hoyun Song Station. Song was the mayor of the city of Monterey Park and a state lawmaker in the 1960s and 70s. He also was a first Korean-American pol, so why not put his name on one of the stations in urban Koreatown?
Play this out to the logical end. There have been a lot of mayors and lawmakers — and police chiefs, councilmen, beloved authors and activists. With each new renaming, the political pressure builds to "honor" more — and less deserving — people. The bar, already low, gets lower. As it is, the common thread isn't historical achievement or admiration across the generations — though almost all of the names we see are of accomplished people. It's that they have a constituency of some kind today, so that someone will come to the press conference unveiling the sign. Usually — and this is key — this also means they lived and died during our lifetimes. So in a few years, the entire city will be clogged up with names of hundreds of elected officials and other quasi-notables not from the sweep of Los Angeles experience, but from a very narrow band of time in the personal memory of current politicians. And there are only so many stations and corners and naming opportunities to go around — it's not easy to take away a name once given.
We also have to assume that some of this is actually the small-scale and unofficial selling of naming rights, in exchange for political favors or contributions. So there's that.
OK, it's a small thing but it cheapens the cityscape. I've railed about this before. The 10 freeway coming out of Santa Monica bears a cacophony of names, each with its own giant highway sign. In the end, like with all the artificial "squares" the City Council has designated in recent years, they cancel each other out in the civic mind. The truly notable figures get diluted by the perfunctory. There's no quality bar. It's not a big deal, but it's why I seldom cover new names and sign unveilings. We know how little goes into them.
In an exercise of logical restraint, the Metro Board today also changed the name of the Red Line's Universal City stop to the Universal City/Studio City Station. I'm only half surprised they didn't include Henry's Tacos in there somewhere.
Top photo: LA Observed. Joel Wachs Square is outside Disney Hall on Bunker Hill; also LA Observed