DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - After the Mexican-American War in the mid- to late-1840s, Mexico relinquished its 27-year hold on Los Angeles to the United States. The maps that existed at the time were simple and often inaccurate.
The United States government wanted an accurate map of the city of Los Angeles. They assigned Lt. E. O. C. Ord to draw it. The result is a map titled "Plan de La Ciudad de los Angeles," dated Aug. 29, 1849.
Most of the roads in the Downtown area started as single family, residential streets. The map begins with Calle Principal (Main Street) and goes west. East of Main was the floodplain for the river. That land was generally developed later.
The second street, in Spanish, was Calle Primavera. Spring Street is the translation.
While it's true that the water table is high in this area, the name of the street owes its origin to a romantic, not a riparian, story. Lt. Ord was taken with a beauty in Santa Barbara whom he called "Mi primavera," or "My springtime." Since Ord was tasked with drawing the map, Spring Street was born.
The next street, Calle Fortin (Fort Street), led to Fort Moore, where the $231 million arts high school now stands. All big cities in the latter 19th century had to have a street called Broadway, and so Fort Street transitioned to that name.
West of Broadway is Hill Street, or Calle Loma on the map. Continuing west is Calle Acituna, which we now call Olive Street. These are direct translations.
Going west to east were the three virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. On the map, they are labeled Calle de las Flores (Faith had already morphed to Flower, supposedly due to the beautiful flowers on Elysian Hills visible from there), Calle de Esperanza (Hope Street) and Calle de Caridad. This last one, Charity Street, was a nonstarter. No one wanted to "live on Charity," so it was renamed with the grand title of Grand Avenue.
The final street, on the west side of Downtown, was Calle de las Chapules (Grasshopper Street).
In the 19th century, there was a concerted movement to name important streets running north/south in Spanish and, at the same time, to honor some of the past governors of Alta California. That led to Soto, Echandia, La Alameda, San Pedro (named for the road to the port), Figueroa (formerly Grasshopper Street and later Pearl Street), Alvarado and Micheltorena.
The surveyor himself is commemorated by Ord Street in Chinatown. As Ord crosses Alameda, you can look up and see an iconic Los Angeles landmark: Phillipe's.
The following ditty has been around for years and helps us to remember the street layout: From Main, we Spring to Broadway over the Hill to Olive. Wouldn't it be Grand to Hope to pick a Flower on Figueroa?
Going north to south, there are some other interesting notes. Temple Street was named for a 19th century family prominent in the banking (Temple and Workman Bank) and ranching (Rancho La Merced in the San Gabriel Valley) industries. Tenth Street was renamed Olympic Boulevard in honor of the 10th Summer Games, held in Los Angeles in 1932. Don Pio Pico Street became Pico Boulevard and kept 13th Street off the map. Venice Boulevard was originally West 16th Street.
The presidents take over south of Venice. A map drawn just before the Civil War shows evenly spaced presidential streets. The first three, Washington, Adams and Jefferson, are angled inside the old city limits. They are followed by Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Jackson streets. These latter streets never made it off the map.
Why are the Downtown streets angled? One story holds that Governor Felipe de Neve, founder of Los Angeles in 1781 in the name of King Carlos III of Spain, didn't want the wind blowing dust through the north/south streets, and so he placed the Plaza (at the top of today's Olvera Street) on the true compass points (N, S, E and W). This turned the streets sideways to the wind coming off the mountains and meant that the buildings on the north side of town would blunt the wind and keep the dust down.
Los Angeles is a city that makes sense. It just takes some time to plow through the 230-year story to get the answers.
Greg Fischer is a Downtown resident and aN amateur historian.