In our last exploration of Los Angeles street names, we searched for a girl named Bonnie Brae, but instead found a pleasant hill. For this installment we travel to another corner of Northeast L.A. in an effort to unearth the story behind Via Marisol, a street that was indeed named after a girl.
In 1978, then Councilman Arthur Snyder, a fiery four-term representative, loved by many and reviled by some, proposed a motion to rename Hermon Avenue to Via Marisol, in honor of his three year old daughter Erin Marisol. Councilman Snyder had been a mainstay of the community since 1965. His friend and one time campaign director Harry Englander described him this way: "He was a red-haired, blue-eyed Irishman who spoke fluent Spanish and kept getting reelected even though his district became a mostly Latino district [...] He was always backslapping, always jovial, always making a deal." To the quiet community of Hermon, however, the larger than life politician was responsible for removing an integral community identifier: Hermon Avenue.
The almost secretly tucked away community of Hermon was established in 1903 by a group of Free Methodists, who named their community after Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, a sacred land that straddles the borders of Syria and Lebanon.
In an effort to quell protests, Snyder claimed Marisol was short for Maria La Reina Del Sol, or Mary Queen of the Sun. In prior years, he had spearheaded the Monterey Hills Development Project, a five million dollar push to create affordable housing in the hillside nook. When residents of Hermon were informed of the change, a petition with 110 signatures was presented to the city council. But there voices went unheard. Eventually, CalTrans changed the street signs and managed to foil a nod to the slighted community by misspelling the name (Herman) on a separate freeway sign. In an open letter to opponents, Councilman Snyder noted:
The entire street pattern in the project is based on Spanish names and the architecture of the project is, in turn, reflective of Spanish influence. And such a name (Hermon) would have a jarring influence on the theme.
Many residents of Hermon were outraged. One of the leaders of the opposition to Via Marisol was 37 year resident and Spanish teacher Carol Littner: "We thought it was just bad Spanish and an unnecessary change [...] If we had known it was his daughters name we would have really blown up."
After the street signs had been changed, Snyder pushed to alleviate angry Hermonites by debuting three "Hermon" community signs and renaming the Arroyo Seco Recreation Center to the Hermon Recreation Center (now home to the Hermon Dog Park).
Snyder stepped down from his council post in 1985, claiming he was leaving in order to provide his pregnant wife with a more stable lifestyle. He later took on a job as a City Hall lobbyist, which came to an end in 1996 after he was convicted of campaign finance violations. In 2007, Snyder's firm, Marisol LLC, bought the rights to the Don The Beachcomber name, once a popular chain of "Tiki" inspired restaurants. After the ex-councilman's passing in 2012, there was some social media chatter that dared to ask: "So can we please revert Via Marisol back to Hermon Avenue now???"
KCET Departures interviewed the retired councilman for our Highland Park neighborhood series, at his Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Huntington Beach. Here he talks about the changing demographics of the neighborhood (See more with Snyder here):