What's in a Name?

Hosted by

map-sm.jpgThis is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Sometime this week…probably…the Los Angeles City Council will settle one of the most nettlesome issues on its docket.

The council will enshrine in law the actual boundaries of Koreatown. And that's no easy feat in a city as splintered as LA is, ethnically and geographically.

Los Angeles, you may have noticed, is awash in blue community signs. They give official status to a neighborhood. And everybody, it seems, wants one.

Most of the little geographic sub-cities that we recognize in LA with a blue sign – say, Van Nuys or the Historic Core District downtown – have vague boundaries that rely on local memories and real estate lore as much as on legal lines.

Some of these official places, like Venice and Tujunga, used to be fully legal cities on their own so there's more agreement on where they are and how much turf they do, in fact, include.

Koreatown has always been in the more amorphous category. You could say you know it when you see it – the business signs along Western and Olympic seem like dead giveaways.

But do you know where Koreatown ends and Wilshire Center begins? They essentially overlap.

For the past year or so, Koreatown representatives have been resisting the creation of a new official neighborhood, Little Bangladesh.

There were hard feelings on both sides, since the newcomer wanted to grab a slice of Koreatown's territory.

I'm happy to say that, on this, there will be peace in our time. Koreatown has agreed to be defined generally as the rectangle within Western and Vermont Avenues, 3rd Street and Olympic.

Little Bangladesh will be the name from now on for a four block stretch of 3rd Street, between Alexandria and New Hampshire avenues.

And that's all good. Little Bangladesh will join Thai Town and the Byzantine-Latino Quarter as names on the L.A. map that, just by being there, say a lot about LA's breathtaking complexity.

If you try to plot these communities on Google Maps, as I did, you'll find that the Internet's largest database has finally met its match.

China and the task of counting every book in the world couldn't defeat Google, but LA geography has.

Not only are most of LA's blue sign communities missing from Google Maps, but a whole bunch of other place names that don't exist are on the maps. And, unfortunately, are searchable on Google.

On the edge of Koreatown I spotted an LA community called Sandford that I'd never heard of.

For my book about Wilshire Boulevard, I've researched the origins of most of the neighborhoods along the boulevard.

So Sandford was a surprise, to me and to the readers of LA Observed.com, where this became a lively discussion over the weekend.

When someone pointed out that the closest post office is called Sanford Station – with no D - and that's where the writer Charles Bukowski worked for many years as a mail sorter, that seemed to explain why Google Maps mistakenly calls the area Sandford – with a D.

Thanks to Google, you can also find websites that offer detailed business, weather and health data on Sandford, California – as if it actually exists.

It all makes me glad I still have my old Thomas Brothers map book in the trunk of my car. It's the only way to fly in Los Angeles.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.