Local News

Signs of the times: What’s in a street name?

By From page A1 | January 16, 2014


Many Davis streets are named after local figures, including Covell Boulevard. Calvin Covell, mayor of Davis for 16 years, was a conservative City Council presence in the 1940s. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

The whistling UPS driver. The City Councilman who supported interning Japanese during World War II. A longtime county supervisor who represented Davis.

What do they have in common? People commute through Davis on their namesake routes as part of their daily lives: Tim Spencer Alley. West and East Covell Boulevards. Russell Boulevard.

Tim Spencer whistled his way around town as he delivered packages. Calvin Covell, mayor of Davis for 16 years, was a conservative presence in the 1940s. W.O. Russell was a beloved elected official who served multiple terms on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors until his death in 1943.

Since the passage of The Cannery housing project, the city’s Historical Resources Management Commission has had its eye on constructing a list of historic names that could adorn the street poles of the soon-to-be new Davis neighborhood.

Current Davis street names are wide-ranging, from the stock-standard alphabet streets to the fantastical Middle Earth names of the residential roads and lanes in Village Homes.

But commissioners want to educate the public about local history, according to Rand Herbert, commission chair.

“Most people have no idea why Russell Boulevard is Russell Boulevard and Covell is Covell,” he said.

To that end, the commission is not only seeking to add new historic names to The Cannery, but also to include small signs letting residents know why the streets are named as they are. And these signs could be added to major streets in other parts of town, as well.

“The goal is to try and promote Davis history to the public and street names are one part of that,” Commissioner Rich Rifkin said.

But as is standard practice in Davis, there has been some controversy — mostly over whether the streets should be named after dead or living people.

“It just seems very unlikely that we will have names after people who are living,” Rifkin said. “There is an objection to that and we didn’t want it to be objectionable.”

One broad benefit to naming streets after the living is diversity, Rifkin said, but there is the danger that a living person may do something that sullies that person’s reputation before he or she dies.

The list is still a work in progress and diversity is a subject that will be tackled again in the future, he said.

For now, the main list contains names of local notables who have passed away, as well as an alternate list sprinkled with the living.

Some examples include: Floyd Gattrell, Davis’ first police chief; Chelso Maghetti for his work as the postmaster and at The Davis Enterprise in the 1940s; and Nathan Fiske, a longtime pastor at Davis Community Church.

For now, Cannery developers are taking the list as a suggestion.

“So far as we understand, The Cannery people were interested in our list because they didn’t have names developed,” Herbert said.

Tuesday night, City Councilman Brett Lee said he would like the city’s Human Relations Commission to also take a crack at the list, saying it would help round out the entries and get more of the community involved in the process.

— Reach Dave Ryan at 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Dave Ryan

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