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Old Maps and the Question of Faith

By Ed Fuentes and Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, October 16, 2008, at 07:53AM
'L.A. Unfolded' Ed Fuentes

Bob Pool's story on L.A. Unfolded, a newly opened exhibition of maps at the Central Library, closes with an anecdote that Downtowners may have heard before:

And what happened to the early downtown streets named Faith, Hope and Charity?

Faith became Olive Street and Charity was renamed Grand Avenue. As Los Angeles grew and thrived, people didn't want to live on faith, Creason said.

And they certainly didn't intend to live on charity.

While Charity street is certainly part of the historical record -- City Council officially renamed it on February 15, 1887 -- Faith street may just be a piece of storytelling legend.

In 1849, an army officer named Edward Ord was hired to survey the city, building a grid out of what had been open land south of 1st street and west of Main. Ord's survey listed street named in both English and Spanish.

In Ord's map, Charity street, or Calle de la Caridad, is where it should be, just east of Hope. Next over, though, is Olive street -- Calle de Accituna.

In a March 23, 1896, story in the young L.A. Times, writer J.M. Guinn took a look at the "many changes that time, flood and the Gringos have made in the olden-time streets of the city." He looks at the history of Charity street and makes his own wisecrack about Faith.

The fitness of some of Ord's names is evident, of others it is not so apparent. Why what is now Grand avenue should have been called Charity street is a matter for conjecture. The Arroyo de Los Reyes, in early times, meandered back and forth across it, rendering it impassable. Possibly Ord may have considered it an act of charity to call it a street at all. Or it may have been that he intended to
bestow on his streets the names of that trinity of virtue, Faith, Hope and Charity, but the unpromising outlook for the city to ever extend so far out, may have caused him to lose faith, so he only got in -- two of the virtues -- Hope and Charity.

So while Faith street may not have been a historic passageway, its place as the punchline of jokes has well over a century of history.

L.A. Unfolded: Maps from the Los Angeles Public Library / October 15, 2008 - January 22, 2009 / Central Library, Getty Gallery / 630 W. 5th / (213) 228-7500

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