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What’s in a Name?

Some of Monrovia’s original street names did not survive an early 1900s citizen effort to rename the city’s streets.

Controversy seems to be germane to the human condition, and the history behind the naming of Monrovia’s streets displays its share of it. A brief look back in time may help the reader understand the events that gave us the street names we recognize today.

In 1883, parcels of land from Rancho Santa Anita were sold to William N. Monroe, Edward F. Spence, John D. Bicknell, James F. Crank, and J.F. Falvey by E. J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who had acquired the land in 1875. Because the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads had been completed and would bring people to the area looking for homes and the opportunity to invest (and a locale to escape and heal from the ravages of tuberculosis), Monroe and his four partners decided to form a town. 

A sixty acre town site was laid out with borders of Canyon Boulevard to the east, Walnut Avenue to the south, Magnolia Avenue to the west, and Lime Avenue to the north.  The new town was named in honor of W. N. Monroe, and on May 17, 1886, the city of Monrovia was born.

When originally laid out, the new town had streets named for trees, flowers, and ladies. Hillcrest Boulevard was originally named Banana Avenue, so called because banana trees had been planted on both sides of the street to show easterners that Monrovia had no frost. Samuel Keefer, a colonel in the Union army during the Civil War, was responsible for, among other things, building the Grand View Hotel (see photo). He had purchased thirty acres east of Myrtle between White Oak (now Foothill) and Banana (now Hillcrest), and he named one of the streets Charlotte (now Canyon), after his oldest daughter.

During 1911, there was a lively discussion, documented in the Monrovia Daily News newspaper, concerning the effort to rename many or all of the town’s streets. One reader proposed renaming the streets along the original vein (trees, flowers, and ladies) but using Spanish words instead. For example, “Melrose doesn’t fit at all well and Manzanita is suggested,” chimed in one reader. 

Another proposed that since the climate did not prove to be favorable for banana plants, Banana Avenue should be renamed, as the present name “…excites the derisive smile of the tourist.”  Even C. O. Monroe, brother of the town’s founder, conceded that the founders and their associates may have been “sentimental” in their naming of the streets, but he would be satisfied if the renaming used “…good, sound American names . . .”

In the end only a few streets actually received new names. In addition to those noted above, Falling Leaf became Huntington Drive, Orange Avenue became Colorado Boulevard, and J.I.C. Avenue became Alta Vista Avenue, among the more notable changes.  Even the town’s main drag, which was named Myrtle Avenue after the eldest daughter of W. N. Monroe, was not insulated from a proposed change. 

However, should it be changed, as one reader so determinedly voiced, “…let’s have anything but ‘Main’ street.”  It was not renamed.

Steve Buckner March 29, 2011 at 04:17 AM
Norumbega (or Norumbègue, Nurumbega, etc) was a legendary settlement in northeastern North America. Like Cathay, it was a semi-legendary place name used to fill a gap in existing geographical knowledge. It often appeared on European maps of North America, lying south of Acadia somewhere in what is now New England. Norumbega was thought to be a large, rich Native city, and by extension the region surrounding it. There have been some attempts to link the name and legend of Norumbega to actual indigenous archaeological sites or even to alleged Viking settlements.
Charlotte Schamadan March 29, 2011 at 05:22 AM
Thanks for posting the Norumbego info, Mr. Buckner. That's very interesting.
Charlotte Schamadan March 29, 2011 at 05:22 AM
NorumbegA. Clumsy typist!
Steve Buckner March 29, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Your Quite welcome. I live on Norumbega Dr.
Lori Lomas March 30, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Yes, thank you for sharing that very interesting information about our street name!

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