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Was Western Avenue Once L.A.'s Western Boundary?

It seems logical enough -- Western Avenue, as the oft-repeated explanation goes, is so named because it once formed Los Angeles' western boundary. But is there any truth to this just-so story?

Some streets did once mark L.A.'s western city limit. Most notably, West Boulevard's name dates to 1915, when the city's annexation of the Palms district made the street the city's western boundary. And Hoover Street runs along the westernmost limit of L.A.'s original pueblo lands. Until 1892, much of Hoover Street bore a different name: West Boundary Street.

But Western Avenue never did define the city's western boundary, as a brief glance at a map of Los Angeles annexations confirms. On April 1, 1896, the Los Angeles city limit lay a mile and a half to the east. The following day, as Los Angeles absorbed its so-called Western Addition, the city limit jumped far over Western Avenue, landing a half-mile to the west.

As this 1916 map shows, Western Avenue never marked L.A.'s legal western boundary. Map by Homer Hamlin, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
As this 1916 map shows, Western Avenue never marked L.A.'s legal western boundary. Map by Homer Hamlin, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

How, then, did Western Avenue get its name?

In the beginning, the street we know today as Western Avenue was nothing more than a pencil mark on a surveyor's map -- an arbitrary line that delineated sections of public land, likely drawn sometime in the 1850s or '60s. In 1875, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors designated part of the line as a public highway, stretching from present-day Sunset Boulevard in the north to present-day Adams Boulevard in the south. They named it Cahuenga Road No. 2. It was, apparently, an improvement over the original Cahuenga Road, which followed the contours of the land and hence meandered through privately owned tracts.

At the time, the leading edge of Los Angeles' urban development still lay far to the east. In fact, Cahuenga Road No. 2 cut through what was then unincorporated county land, which explains why it was the county board of supervisors and not the city council that created the highway.

Within a decade, however, Los Angeles had begun to spill over its western legal city limit along present-day Hoover Street and into county territory. The supervisors must have anticipated that their dusty rural highway would soon become a bustling city street when, in 1885, they gave Cahuenga Road No. 2 its new name.

And so, even if Western Avenue never actually defined the L.A.'s legal boundary, its name almost certainly refers to its location near what was then the westernmost fringe of the city's expansion. How could the county supervisors who christened Western Avenue have anticipated that time would render the name anachronistic -- that Los Angeles would continue to unfurl itself well past their highway, into that seemingly endless expanse of marshlands and open pastures that lay beyond?

Western Ave. as a dusty county highway in 1894. Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collections, Autry National Center: LS.14502.
Western Ave. as a dusty county highway in 1894. Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collections, Autry National Center: LS.14502.