Every visit to the Central Library downtown now includes a stop at the “L.A. Unfolded: Maps from the Los Angeles Public Library” exhibit on view in the Getty Gallery. It's one of the best exhibits I've seen. I waste hours staring at the beautiful maps of our city, state and nation, marveling at the changes in typography, names and spaces. Each map yields a new discovery. Visitors will find quite a different city grid laid out on the old pueblo maps, which dominate the first section of the exhibit. Did you know that Figueroa started out as Calle de Chalpules, which translates to Grasshopper Street?
Photo credit: Beastandbean on Flickr
Once upon a time, our city grid was a morality lesson offering residents a chance to ponder the power of virtue as they crossed Calle de Esperanza (Hope Street) to Calle de Caridad (Charity Street, renamed Grand Avenue after 1880, when upwardly mobile residents petitioned to change the name from Charity Street-- Anglicized when the Yanks took over in 1849--so that visitors would not infer that street dwellers needed financial assistance). A few miles north, one could walk Calle de Eternidad which headed toward the town's cemetery. East Market street now covers the pueblito of the San Gabriel Indians who struggled to find a financial footing after surviving both Mexican and Anglo colonists. The street that ran through their little town was named (sarcastically?) Calle de Libertad until it was changed to Requeno Street to honor Manuel Requeno, a property owner and statesman. *
If the names had never altered, would we live in a different Los Angeles? Would it be better planned city with more greensward, less traffic and gentler residents? What kind of day would I have if I hopped the F Dash bus down Grasshopper Street to USC? I just hope that such a bizarro Los Angeles cherishes and nurtures its library system, which in our world does its best with limited resources to help us grow and dream about the city's potential. I guess it's telling that the city never named a street "Calle de Conocimiento"...
Gloria Gerace and Glen Creason co-curated this excellent show and programmed really smart supplemental ALOUD conversations to go with it. Trevor Paglen’s 10/26/08 talk on secret military operations hidden in the Southern California landscape blew my mind.
It's not too late to check it all out. A family festival is scheduled for January 18th, from 2 to 4 pm, where folks can try their hand at map making. The exhibit ends January 22, 2008.
*If you want to know more about Los Angeles street names check out this essay in the 1914 edition of the Historical Society of Southern California. All mistakes in names and locations are mine and feel free to correct me.