Monday, October 23, 2017

Origins of "Soto Street" in Boyle Heights


A northbound trek onto Soto Street makes for a tolerable surface street drive from East L.A. out to Silverlake during the rush hour.  Always assumed that this street was named for the famed Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto.  But this blog post is leaning towards the idea that the street name was meant for Pablo Vicente de Solá.

KCET's Nathan Masters explored some early L.A. street-naming by 19th century city dreamers.  Five streets stuck and have ever since immortalized several provincial governors of California under Mexican rule:  Manuel Micheltorena, Juan Bautista Alvarado, José Figueroa, José María de Echeandía, and Pío de Jesús Pico.  Masters surmised that along with the governors, the plan shown on an 1857 map included naming the east-west streets after the first seven U.S. presidents.  (Today only the first three presidential street names exist: Washington, Adams & Jefferson.)

The Austrian-born surveyor, George Hansen, was active in the early decades following the admission of California to the Union in 1850.  Hansen must have been highly respected - the newspaper reported at the Saturday, April 28th, 1883 Common Council meeting that Hansen tendered his resignation as city surveyor and city engineer. But a motion was made to not accept his resignation - then another member moved to second the motion.  "Erudite" was an adjective used to describe Hansen; he spoke German, French, Spanish and English.  In 1857 he also formed the Anaheim colony.

In addition to the above-mentioned 1857 map (kept at the Los Angeles City Archives), three other historical maps that Surveyor Hansen probably had a hand in creating show one or more of the north-south arteries named for the governors:  1) an 1860 (or actually circa 1870) City Map No. 56 - housed in the Seaver Center; 2) an 1868 Official Map No. 2 - housed in the Los Angeles City Archives; 3) an 1870 Map of the Reservoir Lands, signed by William Moore, Hansen's good friend - housed in the Seaver Center.

This blogger theorizes that a road where today's Soto Street runs was a part of the plan, but the spelling may have gotten mixed up, as did happen with the governors' names.  The 1860/1870 map no. 56 lists "Sota"; the 1870 map of the reservoir lands incorrectly lists "Micheltoreno".

A portion of the City Map No. 56
Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research

Instead of "Soto" perhaps George Hansen drew a road to cover the city turf laying east of the Los Angeles River meant for Governor Pablo Vicente de Solá.  This governor served from 1814-1822, making him the final governor of Alta California under the Spanish crown.  He was born in Spain, highly-educated with wealth & social position, and he never married. 

He oversaw California at a time when Spain's rule in Mexico was unstable, so a lack of financial support and importation of goods was trying for him as governor, as well as for the lives of those in the pueblos, missions and presidios.  de Solá also maintained diplomatic relations with the Russians at Fort Ross, and he was concerned about the threat of a Russian expansion.  An informative 1961 masters thesis by Alvin Harry Johnson on de Solá can be found at the USC Digital Library.

One can also easily see that the naming of the governors was done so in the order that they served.  While Hansen (if he was the architect of the naming) skipped a lot of governors, he might have begun with de Solá, onto Echeandía, then Figueroa, then Alvarado, finishing with the most recent governor, Micheltorena, as the naming farthest west within the city limits. 

The exception was Pico, the last governor of Mexican California, whose street was drawn positioned east to west, as if to delineate a finality and to start a new American presence to the areas below Pico.  In 1850, the original spread of Los Angeles (a little over 17,000 acres) was insufficient to city officials eager to expand, but those southern areas would be awarded or annexed in later years.

Below shows modern-day boundaries of the original pueblo:

Below is the same map with an overlaying using rudimentary strokes approximating the governor and presidential streets as they exist today:



Most of the streets are today major arteries.  Micheltorena is fairly lengthy but is primarily a residential street in Silverlake adjacent.  In Boyle Heights, Echandia Street is the shortest of this historic group, perhaps the spelling not matching the correct surname spelling led to bad karma...

Soto Street, representing Hernando de Soto, perhaps suited the minds of the early American city fathers - after all, many of then, George Hansen included, came by ship around South America, and de Soto's reputation in Peru may have captured their imaginations.