Los Angeles Linguistics Part 2: Regional Differences

California Fool's Gold

Most metropolitan areas — at least the ones I’m familiar with — are divided both into neighborhoods and larger, multi-neighborhood administrative divisions or regions. Paris has its arrondissements, New York City its boroughs, Busan and Seoul have gu (), Taipei has  (), St. Louis and New Orleans both have wardsMexico City has municipios, and on. Their names vary, then, but the concept is generally the same and in most places the designations seem to be rather formalized and settled upon. In Los Angeles, the capital of informality and unsettlement, this is not the case.

Home to 10.17 million people, Los Angeles is by far the most populous of the US’ 3,007 counties and 64 parishes. It’s also home to a larger population of people than 42 of the 50 states. At 12,310 km2 in size, it also is larger than 37 of the world’s countries and dependencies. It is inevitable, then, that Los Angeles — county, city, and idea — would be divided into some sorts of regions but how depends on who’s doing the dividing. For example, the postal service assigns zip codes, law enforcement has patrol divisions, and the city council its districts. Some Angelenos have adopted those, however unwieldy and regardless of their purpose and are quick to claim authority — usually based on their status as a native — even though no two natives are apparently in agreement and there are, despite claims to the contrary, no official regional divisions.

My focus here is less one which neighborhoods belong to what regions but to how those regions came into being and how they’ve changed. In 1925, for example, English-Angeleno Aldous Huxley famously referred to Los Angeles as “nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis.” I wonder how he arrived at the number nineteen. 46 years later, another English-Angeleno, Reyner Banham, divided the region into four “ecologies”: Autopia, the Foothills, the Plains of Id, and Surfurbia. As unlikely as it seems, it may’ve been the Los Angeles Times ambitious Mapping L.A. project, which only launched in 2009 (228 years after Los Angeles’s founding) that a serious effort was made to formalize the regional divisions of Los Angeles. Predictably, their valiant efforts (which incorporated input from the public) were not without controversy but for the most part, I am in general agreement with them and have, in the cases in which they apparently created a new designation, adopted them. I have also (when no such designation appears to have existed previously) coined a couple of my own — but only where there was no prior designation or consensus.


THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY 

One of the earliest and least controversial regional designations in Los Angeles is that of the San Fernando Valley — although many Angelenos living both inside and outside of it regard it as something somehow separate from Los Angeles, despite its having been annexed over a century ago.

As with many regions of Los Angeles, it was almost certainly referred to by the region’s indigenous people by their own names although the Spanish were not generally in the habit of respecting pre-existing names and upon entering it on 5 August 1769, named it “El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos.” The Spanish also had a habit of changing their mind about names after founding the Mission San Fernando Rey de España in 1797, the valley became known as “El Valle de San Fernando.” In 1853 there was a reference (in English) in the Los Angeles Star to the “San Fernando Valley” in an article concerning the theft of some of Ignacio Palomares‘s horses by a band of Paiutes.

Naturally, over time the name of the geographic depression was applied to the communities which arose within it. In 1915, the San Fernando Addition became the largest expansion of Los Angeles since its foundation and until this day — although the Valley communities of Burbank and San Fernando remain independent. Speaking of “the Valley,” although Los Angeles County contains numerous valleys, including ones larger in size than the San Fernando, the San Fernando Valley has colloquially been referred to as “the Valley” since at least 1927. 


THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY 

The San Gabriel Valley is one of those valleys which is larger than the San Fernando Valley. Although there’s no history of referring to it as “the Valley,” it is, interestingly, traversed by a thoroughfare known as Valley Boulevard. As with the San Fernando Valley, it is named after a Spanish Mission, the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, constructed in Whittier Narrows in 1771 and destroyed by floods in 1776.

Why the Spanish named the mission after the Holy Prince of Archangels is something I haven’t been able to ascertain, although the formal name of the mission was “La Misión del Santo Príncipe El Arcángel, San Gabriel de Los Temblores” and “Río de los Temblores” was what the Spanish originally named the Santa Ana River. The earliest references in English to “the San Gabriel Valley” that I’ve thus located date from 1869.

The Asian-American population of the San Gabriel Valley grew dramatically in the 1980s and today, eight of the country’s most proportionally Chinese cities are within it. Although the San Gabriel Valley remains mostly Latino, the region has become known around the world for it’s vibrant, pan-Asian community and culture. Around 1999, the nickname “China Valley,” first appeared in print, followed by the more clever “Chan Gabriel Valley.” Still, as far as regional nicknames go, the most common are probably “the SGV” and “the 626,” the latter a reference to the area code launched in 1997 and reflected in institutions like the 626 Night Market and 626 Golden Streets.


DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

The Spanish established the four square league (75.5 km2) El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles in 1781. With a founding population of just 44 pobladores, it’s doubtful that the original Angelenos had much use for regional divisions or even barrios. Though it remained a small, dusty collection of low-rises, home to fewer than 2,000 residents, Los Angeles was designated a “ciudad” by the Mexican government in 1834. Incidentally, it was around that exact time that the word “downtown” was first used — albeit in New York City (then home to about 25,000 people).

It was only in 1850 that Los Angeles was incorporated as an American city and by then, “downtown” was the term of choice for several American city centers. References to “Downtown Los Angeles” appeared in print at least as early as the 1870s, despite the fact that the tiny community still remained quite small (home to just 5,728 residents at the time of the census). Los Angeles would only overtake San Francisco as California’s most populous city in the 1900s. In the decades that followed, Downtown Los Angeles would experience its literal and figurative ups and downs but perhaps the greatest indignity was the appearance of “DTLA,” which first appeared around 1994 remains tiresomely common today.


NORTHEAST LOS ANGELES 

The designation “Northeast Los Angeles” appeared at least as early as 1875, when the northeast corner of Los Angeles was still located where it had been since the pueblo’s foundation in 1781. A plaque inside Ernest E. Debs Regional Park marks the approximate location of the square-shaped pueblo’s northeast corner.

The 1880s was Los Angeles’s first decade of explosive growth, with the population that decade quintupling thanks largely to transplants from elsewhere in the country. The first communities to be annexed by Los Angeles were Sycamore Grove, Highland Park, and Garvanza — all in the northeast — adding to the city’s size and population with the Highland Park Addition (1895) and Garvanza Addition (1899). The Arroyo Seco Addition (1912) and Occidental Addition (1916) also added to the city’s population and area — and continued to move the city’s border northeasterly. In 1917, the Northeast Los Angeles Improvement Association was established.

Although Los Angeles would continue to annex territory, it would never again do so in the northeast. Over time, most of the communities of Northeast Los Angeles were variously described as being in both Northeast Los Angeles as well as the Eastside. However, largely untainted by negative associations, “Northeast Los Angeles” began gradually to be applied to communities not previously characterized as such.

Cypress Park was referred to as being part of Northeast Los Angeles as early as the 1960s, followed by Atwater Village, Glassell Park, Lincoln Heights, and Mount Washington. In 1978, a reporter for the Desert Sun even referred to Boyle Heights as being in Northeast Los Angeles, meaning that every Los Angeles on the Los Angeles River’s east bank had by then been rebranded in at least some quarters as Northeast Los Angeles.

Around the same time, however, a Highland Park street gang formed known as NELA 13. This appears to be the first time Northeast Los Angeles was referred to by the now popular tag of “NELA” — although I doubt many of the developers and realtors so eager to disassociate with the Eastside are aware that this moniker has its roots in a criminal organization.


THE ANTELOPE VALLEY 

The northeastern section of Los Angeles is known as the Antelope Valley. Whether or not you’ve ever asked yourself why you’ve no doubt never seen a single antelope there — nor did any ever live there. It’s also, unlike most regions with “valley” in the name, not obviously a valley, with the Mojave Desert stretching out as far to the north and east as the eye can see.

There may formerly have been pronghorns living in the Antelope Valley and although they are not antelopes, they are frequently (if inaccurately) referred to as such on account of their superficial similarities. This, it is often assumed, is why the region is known as Antelope Valley. I have my doubts, though, as there are areas in northeastern California, where pronghorns still roam the wilds, where “Antelope Valley” was earlier applied as a place name. In Tehama County, there was the town of Antelope Valley which emerged around Job Francis Dye‘s Antelope Ranch and through which flows a tributary of the Sacramento River known as Antelope Creek. Every mention in print of “Antelope Valley” made prior to 1882 seems to have been in reference to this community.

In December 1883, however, a writer for the Los Angeles Herald referred to the “Antelope Valley, on the west border of the Mojave Desert” in a piece about a planned community to have been developed by a native of Mississippi named M.L. Wicks. In 1884, another Herald article interchangeably referred to Wicks’s development as the “Antelope Valley Colony” and “Lancaster Colony.” Although he may or may not have known of the Antelope Valley up north, he certainly knew that there were many communities called “Lancaster” and thus wasn’t above a bit of borrowing. He also, as there were no pronghorns then, wasn’t apparently averse to a little boosterism and the reporter Herald reporter promised that “man will have dominion over earth and its productions” and that “the desert shall bloom as the rose.”

In keeping with this mythologizing tone, Wicks named streets (in addition to Antelope Avenue), Beech, Cedar, Date, Elm, and Fern — although, as with antelopes, none of those could be found nearby. A three-year drought left the community’s residents in doubt about their dominion or the likelihood of the desert blooming like anything and most moved away. The devastating drought wasn’t the last word on the Antelope Valley. As of 2010, the Antelope Valley cities of Lancaster and Palmdale had grown sufficiently to become the fifth and sixth most populous cities in the county.


HOLLYWOOD 

 

Today, “Hollywood” is used so often to refer not to a place but to the entire commercial American film industry, that there are probably those unaware that it’s also a district of Los Angeles. Interestingly, Hollywood was not Los Angeles’s first hub of filmmaking — nor did it remain one for as long as its enduring reputation would suggest.

Hollywood was founded by Harvey Henderson Wilcox in August 1887, a year before Louis Le Prince filmed what’s often regarded as the first motion picture (the two second long Roundhay Garden Scene). When filmmaking came to Los Angeles, most studios were located in the community of Edendale. At that time, Hollywood was a “dry town,” where sales and consumption of alcohol were banned and where, in the spirit of no-fun, cinemas were banned too.

There are several theories about the origin of the “Hollywood” name. None have been satisfactorily substantiated and the most commonly repeated is perhaps the most ridiculous. In the diary of Hobart Johnstone Whitley, one of several men who claimed to be the “Father of Hollywood,” he arrived at the name in 1886, when standing on a hill he encountered a Chinese man with a wagon who, when asked his purpose, said “I hauling wood,” which in his Chinese accent sounded to Whitely like “I Hollywood.” More likely the name came from Holly Canyon, likely named after the native toyon shrubs which (like antelopes and pronghorns) is not closely related to holly but does somewhat superficially resemble it.

Whatever the case may be, it was Wilcox who filed with the Los Angeles County Recorder‘s office a deed and parcel map of a property named “Hollywood, California.” Hollywood incorporated as a city on 14 November 1903 and ceased to exist as a municipality in February 1910, when both it and the neighboring community of East Hollywood were absorbed into Los Angeles, and pre-existing bans on amusements were lifted.

Almost immediately, filmmakers and film studios arrived. David Ward Griffith‘s In Old California (1910), shot in Hollywood, opened in theaters one month after the community’s annexation. Nestor Motion Picture Company opened the community’s first film studio in October 1911. As quickly as the studios arrived, many began to relocate. Before the dawn of the 1920s, several had relocated to the San Fernando Valley (hence Studio City and Universal City), Culver City, and what’s now Century City (after 20th Century Fox).

During its 1920s heyday, Hollywood’s neighbors naturally attempted to siphon off some of its glamour. To the west, the unglamorously named Sherman changed its name to West Hollywood in 1925. In 1927, the San Fernando Valley community of Lankershim changed its name to North Hollywood. In 1937, Culver City went so far as to change its motto to “Culver City, Where Hollywood Movies Are Made” and that same year even went so far as to pass a measure to rename that city “Hollywood” (since the original Hollywood had by then ceased to exist as a municipality for over a quarter-century). The city of Los Angeles responded by granting official recognition to Hollywood as a district within the city although today that district has grown, informally at least, to include the neighborhoods above in the Hollywood Hills as well as those in East Hollywood.


SOUTHWEST LOS ANGELES 

When Los Angeles was established, and for 78 years after, the southwest corner of Los Angeles was located near what’s now the intersection of Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street. As is often the case, however, “Southwest Los Angeles” was originally used to refer to a county area beyond borders of the city, as was the case in 1887 when lots near the intersection Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard were advertised in the Herald as being located in “Southwest Los Angeles.”

Through annexations, the southwestern borders of Los Angeles moved southwesterly in 1899, 1906, and 1910. By then, the community of Angeles Mesa was sometimes referred to as being in Southwest Los Angeles, as was Hyde Park, after its annexation in 1923. There are still occasional references to Southwest Los Angeles, sometimes to communities more often characterized as forming the South Bay or the Westside of South Los Angeles, but more often than not they are historical in context, such as with the book, Seinan, Southwest Los Angeles: Stories and Experiences from Residents of Japanese Ancestry, about the long-vanished Japantown which flourished from the 1920s until forced internment during World War II.


NORTHWEST LOS ANGELES 

Perhaps no regional identity has moved as far from its original location as has Northwest Los Angeles. When Northwest Los Angeles Improvement Association began meeting, around 1894, the northwest corner of Los Angeles was still located at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Hoover Street. The Improvement Association on the edge of Downtown, though, near the intersection of Montreal and Sand  a corner long ago obliterated by the construction of the interchange of the 110 and 101 freeways.

Onn 27 October 1909, after 128 years of being stationary, the Colegrove Addition nudged the northwest corner of the city over to the intersection of Hollywood and Normandie. The addition of Hollywood again moved the city’s northwestern edge and Hollywood was occasionally referred to as being in Northwest Los Angeles as late as 1922 — even though the annexation of the San Fernando Valley in 1915 had by then moved the northeastern most border far beyond.

By 1949, “Northwest Los Angeles” was more often used (in print at least) in reference to the northwestern corner of Los Angeles County, rather than the city. That 1949 reference, for the record, was to the unincorporated town of Castaic. Still, my guess is most Angelenos have widely divergent ideas of what and where Northwest Los Angeles is and the Wikipedia page on the entry claims that it’s an alternate name for “Northwest of Downtown” and includes neighborhoods like Westlake and Pico-Union.


SOUTHEAST LOS ANGELES 

Other than the minor Southern Extension of 1859, Los Angeles spread in every direction except to the southeast for many years. A plaque still marks the pueblo’s southeastern corner in the parking lot of a smog check located operating at the intersection of Indiana Street and Olympic Boulevard at the edge of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.

There were developers and organizations that staked their claim on Los Angeles’s sprawl. Walter Leimert developed City Terrace just beyond the city’s eastern border and predicted in advertisements for his development that the “Los Angeles pendulum” would swing east — but it didn’t — and City Terrace remains an unincorporated county community in East Los Angeles. Following the annexation of Sycamore Grove and Highland Park, a journalist at the Herald announced that growth to the southeast was imminent.

Although the city of Los Angeles never did spread to the southeast, the southeastern region of Los Angeles County did develop as independent suburbs began to sprout there. A development in Downey was advertised as being in Southeast Los Angeles in 1902. Before long, Walnut Park, Huntington Park, Vernon, Artesia, and other communities received the same treatment.


THE WESTSIDE 

For 115 years, the western edge of Los Angeles was marked by what’s now Hoover Street and the neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Pico Heights, and Westlake occupied the city’s western edge. Streets east of Hoover, laid out by the Spanish, follow the guidelines of Spain’s Leyes de Indias. Those west of Hoover run along cardinal directions, as prescribed by Thomas Jefferson.

The earliest mention I’ve thus far located of Los Angeles’s Westside dates from 1896, when the Westside Lighting Company was founded. As the city moved west, naturally, so too did conceptions of the Westside. The city continued to move west until 14 June 1916, when it reached the Santa Monica Bay.

Although the Pacific Ocean conveniently stopped the westward migration of the Westside, there are those who now debate where the eastern edge of the Westside lies. Some claim that it ends at the 405 Freeway whilst others extend their definition all the way to the Los Angeles River. There are still vestiges of the Westside’s former homes in the Westside Jewish Community Center (in Miracle Mile), the neighborhood Westlake, and the placas of Latino gangs as far east as Silver Lake and Echo Park.


SOUTH LOS ANGELES 

It’s often said that “South Los Angeles” is an intentional rebranding of previously known as South Central, but the truth is predictably more complicated. The first change in Los Angeles’s borders was at its southern edge, in 1869, when the Southern Addition added a small strip of land by moving it from Exposition Boulevard to Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard). The oldest designation that I’ve thus far located for the region was “South Los Angeles,” written in 1903.

“South Central,” on the other hand, was reserved for the region’s main thoroughfare, South Central Avenue, and the vibrant black community which arose around it. After a Supreme Court decision, Los Angeles’s black population were at least legally free to move into other neighborhoods and many did so, especially those South of Slauson Avenue and west of Main Street which had previously been reserved for whites. “South Central” thus spread with the black population, used both as a term of pride and denigration, to refer to nearly everything south of the 10 Freeway, no matter how far it might be from South Central Avenue.

Although never as widely adopted, both South Los Angeles and South Central were likely predated by “South Side.” Lots of the South Side Tract went on sale in 1886, in what’s now part of Pico-Union. The Southside Theatre opened in 1950, and in the 1980s, a series of murders were attributed to the Southside Slayer. Although most black gangs in South Los Angeles have traditionally claimed “east side” or “west side” based on their location in relation first to Main Street and later, the Harbor Freeway, as the area has grown increasingly Latino, I’ve noticed many placas including an “SS” which I assume stands for “south side.”

Predictably, South Los Angeles hasn’t escaped the tiresome fad for acronym rebrandings (e.g. CPT, DTLA, EXP, FiDi, HiFi, HLP, LHTS, MPK, NELA, NoHo, SiLa, SoFax, WeCo, WeHo, &c) and in 2014, in the historic South Central neighborhood of South Los Angeles, development began of SoLA Village. Thankfully, though, I’ve yet to hear anyone even ironically refer to the neighborhood thus.


THE HARBOR 

 

The Shoestring Addition of 1906 added territory to Los Angeles’s southwest but its primary purpose was to connect the city to the Port of Los Angeles, development of which began in 1899. It’s not often acknowledged that it was here, on the now industrialized San Pedro Bay, the Los Angeles became a coastal city.

Still, that the San Pedro Bay is part of the coast tends to be overlooked and when the Exposition Line began running to the beach in Santa Monica, nearly every commentator celebrated the restoration of passenger rail to the ocean — somehow all having forgotten that Metro‘s oldest line, the Blue Line, had by then been carrying passengers to Long Beach’s titular seashore for over a quarter century.

The harbor was alternately known as Wilmington Harbor at least since the 1880s and was dominated by three towns — San Pedro, Wilmington, and Long Beach. The former two were absorbed into the city of Los Angeles on 28 August 1909, three years after the Shoestring Addition. Long Beach remained its own municipality and began development of its Port of Long Beach next to the Port of Los Angeles in 1911. As early as 1906, though, Long Beach was referred to as being in the Harbor DistrictThe Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners was founded in 1907.

The region was referred to by the alternated name of Harbor Area at least as early as 1908. In the 1970s, references to the area as “the Harbor,” “the Harbor District,” and “the Harbor Area” began to give way to characterizations of the area as part of the “South Bay” —  until then reserved for the affluent suburbs along the southern portion of the Santa Monica Bay.


THE EASTSIDE

No regional identity is more testily contested than the Eastside. Many Angelenos passionately argue that it is every neighborhood east of the Los Angeles River has always been considered the Eastside but really — has anyone ever characterized Hermon, Monterey Hills, or Arroyo View Estates as “Eastside?” Others insist, with equal authority, that “The Eastside” refers only to the neighborhoods east of Main Street or the Harbor Freeway. Others maintain that the eastern neighborhoods of Central Los Angeles (a region which includes Downtown, Hollywood, and Midtown) are the true Eastside.

The Los Angeles River, which divides the east and west sides of Los Angeles in some definitions, settled upon its current course in 1825 — before that it flowed into the Santa Monica Bay along the course of what’s now Ballona Creek. After that, 38% of the pueblo’s territory was located on the east bank and 62% on the west. It seems that before anyone described any portion as “Eastside,” though, a portion of the eastern section (what’s now Lincoln Heights) was referred to as East Los Angeles at least as early as 1887. The earliest print reference I’ve thus far located to the region as “the Eastside” dates from 1913. Two years later, Bairdstown (now El Sereno) was annexed, which till this day is the last time Los Angeles moved east, and thus you might think that notions of the Eastside might be settled — but even then this wasn’t the only usage of “Eastside” in Los Angeles.

In 1909, The Eastside Boys Club (now Eastside Boys & Girls) was formed in the South Central, in South Los Angeles’s Eastside. People in South Los Angeles, at least, still tend to describe everything east of the 110 as the “Eastside,” as reflected by the documentary The Eastsiders or the East Side Riders Bike Club. Whether rightly or wrongly, I’ve always felt like there was sort of unspoken implication that “Eastside,” in this respect, referred to the east side of South Los Angeles — and that “South Los Angeles’s Eastside” is both too much of a mouthful and sounds too much like Southeast Los Angeles.

In the past couple of decades, its become increasingly common to refer to the Central Los Angeles neighborhoods of Echo Park, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and even (somewhat humorously, considering its name) Westlake as “Eastside.” Although neighborhoods like Hillside Village were formerly promoted as “the Beverly Hills of the Eastside,” at some point “Eastside” acquired associations many developers and some residents were eager to dissociate with, which is I suspect part of the reason every single neighborhood east of the Los Angeles River has been referred to by one source or another as being not in the Eastside, but Northeast Los Angeles. Naturally, that seemingly deliberate erasure of regional identity hasn’t sat well with many Eastsiders, nor has the designation’s more recent co-option, now used to connote supposed quirkiness and grittiness of the hipster-associated west bank.

Although this latter application of “Eastside” rivals neither of the previous usages in historicity, it has been applied for longer than some of its detractors might care to admit. When I moved to Silver Lake in 1999, nearly all of the references I heard to the “Eastside” were in reference to the region in which I still live. Mitchell Frank, the founder of Malo, The Echo, El Prado, and Spaceland (in East Hollywood, Echo Park, and Silver Lake) was referred to as “Mr. Eastside Cool.” A Westlake bar used to host a night called Eastside Mondays. In 2012, a series set in Silver Lake, titled The EastSiders, made its debut.

The earliest print reference I’ve found to this region as “the Eastside” comes from a 1994 piece in the Los Angeles Times contrasting it to the Westside. I again, whether rightly or wrongly, think that there’s an unspoken, parenthetical here — i.e. “(Central Los Angeles’s) Eastside.” If not, how do people who think of this as the Eastside collectively refer to the neighborhoods east of the river?


THE POMONA VALLEY 

 

The Pomona Valley is a geographic area formed by the Santa Ana River and its tributaries. It’s surrounded by the San Jose Hills, Jurupa Hills, San Gabriel Mountains, and Chino Hills. The Pomona Valley straddles Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. On the San Bernardino side are the communities of Chino, Chino Hills, Montclair, OntarioRancho Cucamonga, and Upland. The Los Angeles portion contains the communities of Claremont, La Verne, and Pomona. The communities of Diamond Bar, San Dimas, and Walnut all straddle the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys, but are generally lumped in with the latter.

The Pomona Valley’s name is derived from the community of Pomona, which is in turn derived from the Roman goddess of fruit. The town of Pomona’s name was chosen in a contest, in 1875, before the planting of any fruit trees. The surrounding valley was referred to as the Pomona Valley as early as 1878. Although part of the boundary between the Los Angeles and San Bernardino county halves of the Pomona Valley corresponds to San Antonio Creek, it is mostly an invisible human concept. Most early print mentions of the Pomona Valley — even when referring to the Los Angeles side — appear in the San Bernardino Sun. “Pomona Valley” as an informal reference to a region of Los Angeles County seems to date back at least to 1920. In 1921, the Pomona Valley YMCA was established.


THE VERDUGOS 

 

In 1784, Petro Fages granted José María Verdugo the large Rancho San Rafael. It was nicknamed “La Zanja” by Verdugo, but in 1843, when Ygnacio Coronel received a land grant from the Mexican government, he named it La Cañada Atras de Rancho Los Verdugos — “the canyon behind the Verdugo Ranch.”

The Verdugo name was applied not only to the family’s ranch, but to the Verdugo Hills, Verdugo Canyon, Verdugo Wash, and Verdugo Road. In 1912, planning was underway of a community in the Crescenta Valley known as Verdugo Park. In the 1920s it was re-named Verdugo City. Verdugo Hills High School was established in Tujunga in 1937. The annual Days of the Verdugos kicked off in 1948. The Glendale Community Foundation, founded in 1956, changed their name to the Community Foundation of the Verdugos, in 2008. In 2009, the Mapping L.A. project included the Verdugos as one of Los Angeles’s regions, although bizarrely, the San Gabriel Valley communities of Altadena and Pasadena were included in their definition despite neither including any portion of the Verdugos chain.


THE SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS 

A 1978 recreation of an older real estate advertisement for Hollywoodland, is the subject of untold postcards, photographs, T-shirt prints, establishing shots, and backdrop to a seemingly infinite number of selfies. The famous Hollywood sign is attached to the southern slope of Mount Lee, one of Santa Monica Mountains, the eastern end of which are more often referred to as the Hollywood Hills. From Hollywood, the range continues west, where it disappears off the coast of Malibu into the sea, where when the peaks break the surface of the Pacific, they’re known as the Channel Islands.

The landforms were known as the Santa Monica Mountains at least as early as 1885. Later they came to lend their name to the communities of the county’s westernmost region. Along the north face of the mountains are the communities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, and Westlake Village — some of which are occasionally lumped in — in defiance of geography — with the San Fernando Valley. South of the mountains, occupying a thin strip along the coast, is the city of Malibu. Nestled within the mountains are Cornell, Mount Nido, Saratoga Hills, and Topanga.

The name “Santa Monica” was first applied to the area by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolà during the overland exploration of 1769. There are theories as to why Santa Monica was chosen and, as is so often the case, none are especially convincing. Regardless, in 1873, a Santa Monica town hall was erected and at least as early as the following year, the curved coastline came to commonly be referred to as the Santa Monica Bay. Although there are informal references to communities of the Santa Monica Mountains area as far back as the 1920s, there’s seems to be little recognition of the communities there belonging to a coherent Santa Monica Mountains region — except when regarded as an extension of the Westside — with most references to a “Santa Monica Mountains Region” coming from reports on wildlife, tectonic, or archaeological studies.


MIDTOWN 

While “Midtown” seems to be widely used by people living in this particular region of Central Los Angeles, many Angelenos living elsewhere seem to describe large swathes or even the entire area as either Mid-Wilshire or Mid-City, which are both more defensibly regarded as sub-regions of Midtown. The concept of a Mid-City predates that of a Midtown, although it was generically applied to the central areas of many cities and not just Los Angeles. In fact, locally it was used to describe neighborhoods of Walnut and Santa Monica as early as 1915. The earliest mention I’ve thus far found of Los Angeles’s Mid-City dates only from 1971.

Midtown, on the other hand, was applied to the area mapped here as early as 1935, remarkably early, considering it was only coined around 1930 to describe a region of Manhattan.  Earlier designations for at least part of the Midtown Los Angeles region include The Wilshire District and Wilshire Boulevard District, both of which appeared as early as 1906 but neither of which described, for most, the entire Midtown region. Similarly, Wilshire Center appeared in print as early as 1941. Mid-Wilshire emerged by 1969. More recently, Mid-City West was coined around 2001 with the apparent purpose of associating several neighborhoods with the neighboring Westside region.


THE SOUTH BAY 

The South Bay, since at least 1874, has referred to the southern portion of the Santa Monica Bay — a bight of the Pacific Ocean bookended by Point Dume in the north and the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the south. As that southern portion of the was developed (beginning in the 1900s and 1910s) with suburbs and resort towns, “South Bay” came to refer to them as well — at least as early as 1938 (in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News). It was only in that decade, and the 1940s, that the populations of South Bay cities of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Torrance surpassed 10,000 and thus probably warranted a regional designation.

However, ideas of what communities are located in the South Bay region have changed over time, generally expanding inland and further along the coast. Naturally, all definitions include the so-called Beach Cities (Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach) and, I assume, the communities of Palos Verdes Peninsula. However, many also include the landlocked suburbs of Alondra Park, Del Aire, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, and Lennox — all closer to South Los Angeles than the actual bay and all at least partially separated from their coastal neighbors by the 405 Freeway.

Why some would be eager to associate landlocked, working-class suburbs with affluent beach cities is understandable, but in the 1970s “South Bay” was increasingly used to characterize the coastal communities of the Harbor District, located not on the southern section of the Santa Monica Bay but along the northern edge of the San Pedro Bay. By the 2000s, the LA Weekly even listed events in Orange County-adjacent Southeast Los Angeles as taking place in the “South Bay.”


ANGELES FOREST 

 

Before it was used in reference to a particular region of Los Angeles County, “Angeles Forest,” of course, referred to the Angeles National Forest which dominates it. That was established in 1908 when the San Bernardino National Forest and parts of the Santa Barbara and San Gabriel National Forests were combined. The Angeles National Forest sprawls across parts of not just Los Angeles County but also neighboring San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

I’m really not sure about Angeles Forest was first used to refer to only to the section of National Forest within Los Angeles County and containing the San Gabriel Mountains but excluding the section of the forest within Northwest Los Angeles County. My guess is that it might’ve been in 2009, when the Los Angeles Times launched its Mapping L.A. project, that Angeles Forest was used to refer to a formalized region of Los Angeles.


MIDEAST LOS ANGELES 

 

Most residents of Central Los Angeles, in my experience, identify with one of its distinct, multi-neighborhood regions: Hollywood, Midtown, or Downtown. Those three regions leave a fairly large chunk of neighborhoods including Angeleno Heights, Elysian Heights, Elysian Valley/Frogtown, Franklin Hills, Historic Filipinotown, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Solano Canyon, Temple-Beaudry, Victor Heights, and Westlake. Naturally, residents of those neighborhoods, when referring to the region in which they live need a designation less clunky than, say, “the part of Central Los Angeles that’s neither Downtown, nor Hollywood, nor Midtown.”

There’s a strange disconnection when a region’s residents alternately refer to the same area as the Eastside, the Westside, Northeast Los Angeles, and Northwest Los Angeles — but such is geographic relativism. Around 2010, stickers began appearing in Silver Lake stating “this is not the Eastside!” and in 2014 the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council passed a motion stating “Silver Lake is not located in the “East Side” of Los Angeles nor is it accurate to refer to Silver Lake as an “East Side” neighborhood or community.”

In 2011, like Spanish explorers before me, I decided to give it a new name — the Mideast Side — a name which I feel suggests both its location between Midtown and the Eastside and connotes, like “Middle East,” a sense of contention. A few years later I decided that Mideast Los Angeles sounds better, because it’s not really a “side” of anything and, like neighboring Northeast Los Angeles, it lends itself to an acronym, MELA, if you’re into that whole brevity thing. Admittedly, neither Mideast Side nor Mideast Los Angeles (nor even MELA) have exactly caught on like a Santa Ana Winds-fueled brushfire — but as Angelenos acquire a more whole picture of their city (e.g. there’s more to Los Angeles than just the Eastside and Westside), I have faith that it will catch on.


THE CHANNEL ISLANDS 

There are at least two sets of “Channel Islands” in the world, those located in the English Channel between the UK and France, and those located in Southern California’s Santa Barbara Channel. The latter — home to the ancestors of the Chumash for at least 13,000 years — are the site of the discovery of the oldest known human remains in the Americas — those of the Arlington Springs man (or woman, is it was later learned).  Thousands of years later, the Tongva colonized the southern Channel Islands of San Clemente, San NicholasSanta Barbara, and Santa Catalina.

In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo became the first European to see the islands, claimed them for Spain, and in typical European fashion, began assigning new names for the islands. In 1602, on the feast day of Saint Barbara, fellow explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno renamed Tchunashngna, “Isla Santa Barbara.” Santa Barbara’s name was also applied to the channel between the islands and the mainland, and appeared in English as the Santa Barbara Channel as early as 1850 — the year California became a state.

At least as early as 1858, it seems that the Channel Islands were most often referred to as the “Santa Barbara Channel Islands,” presumably to differentiate them from those found in the English Channel. By the 1910s, however, the islands were more often referred to in print as the “Channel Islands of California.”

Santa Barbara and Los Angeles were two of California’s original 27 counties. Ventura County, though, was cleaved from Santa Barbara in 1873 and as a result, inherited the islands of Anacapa and San Nicholas. Santa Barbara retains jurisdiction over the islands of Santa Barbara, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz. Los Angeles retains jurisdiction over the Channel Islands: San Clemente and Santa Catalina which, despite their size and geographic significance, routinely excluded from discussions and maps of Los Angeles.

San Clemente Island, in particular, almost never appears on maps of Los Angeles County and Santa Catalina, when it does, is usually rescaled and relegated the bottom left corner. The Los Angeles Times’ Mapping L.A. project excluded San Clemente Island entirely and lumped Santa Catalina in with the Harbor Region, despite their being separated from one another by 34 kilometers of open ocean.

I’ve yet to come across any source in which San Clemente and Santa Catalina are described as together forming part of a Channel Islands region of Los Angeles County or referred to as the Channel Islands or The Channel Islands of Los Angeles County — but how else to refer to this vast region of the county which is nearly three times the size of San Francisco?


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in generating advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other varieties of spam. Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 GalleryHe is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiTwitter, and Weibo.
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2 thoughts on “Los Angeles Linguistics Part 2: Regional Differences

  1. Generally correct, IMHO, but of course I have quibbles! I don’t know that anyone in L.A. really uses “Mid-town”, though I acknowledge that Mid-City and Mid-Wilshire don’t really apply to the whole area. Maybe it’s alright, though I think I would vote to expand Mid-City to cover the whole region instead. There’s no dispute I think about Southeast Los Angeles, but I would call what you’re designated South L.A. east of the Harbor, “South Central Los Angeles” and west of the Harbor, “Southwest Los Angeles”. Having done that you could then dispense with “Mid-Eastside” which would imply being east of the L.A. river, which it’s not, and instead that area in between Northeast Los Angeles and Hollywood/Mid-City becomes “North Central Los Angeles”. So on the pinwheel from downtown it would be South Central, Southwest, Mid-City, Hollywood, North Central, Northeast, the Eastside, and Southeast. And the ring around that is the Harbor, the South Bay, Beach Cities, the Westside, Santa Monica Mountains, the SF Valley, San Gabriel Valley, Orange County.

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