* Editor’s note: This story was published originally in September 2006.
By Katje Sabin
Special to The Enterprise
The city of Davis has managed to hit the national media over our civic byways several times. In the early 1990s, City Councilwoman Julie Partansky questioned the expense and necessity of paving several alleys, propelling the Pothole Preservation story to the masses. The gist is, the city decided not to pave six “historical” alleys and keep them in their historical “pristine” condition — filled with potholes.
Not long after, our city authorized an expenditure of $14,000 for a very special pathway. No, not for our beloved bicycles, though we do have many miles of asphalt dedicated to them. What catapulted us back into the media spotlight was the celebrated toad tunnel, an underground thoroughfare for amphibians who wanted to cross the road to get to the other side. The verdict is still out on whether any toads have ever used the tunnel.
And while many were happy about the opening of the new Sutter Davis Hospital in 1994, there were some vocal protesters of the nearby street’s new name: Sutter Place. In fact, Native Americans and other Davis residents have urged City Council to consider a name change due to John Sutter’s treatment of Native Americans.
But there are a few other mysteries and oddities about our city streets that haven’t hit the big time.
Newcomers to the community can be baffled by signage that has become merely background to the rest of us. And hidden stories sometimes lie beneath a street’s rough surface.
So, as a public service to those uninitiated residents, and in the interest of historical discovery, let’s take a spin around our bucolic ‘burb and see what we can find …
Our hosts on this tour will be Kathleen Johnson, who was with the city’s Public Works Department for many years, and Bob Dunning, longtime Davis Enterprise columnist. Your humble author takes any and all responsibility for errors.
What’s in a name?
The single biggest traffic gaffe, as far as Davisites are concerned, must be the Covell/Cowell fiasco. The two similarly named streets have caused constant confusion for years. In fact, if you follow the natural extension of Covell east along Mace Boulevard, the two major roads eventually intersect.
“There’s a Safeway on each of them,” Dunning said, “and deliverymen bang their heads on a wall trying to figure it out.”
“Both of these streets are named for historical families,” Johnson said. “And neither was within city limits when it was named.” Covell was originally a county road, and named Covell Boulevard when annexed by the city, after Calvin A. Covell, Davis’ first mayor. This happened well before 1960.
Cowell Boulevard, on the other hand, was named by Yolo County officials long before it was annexed into the city in 1966.
“That would never happen today,” Johnson insisted. “When we approve street names, we run it by city emergency services. Confusion like this can be a primary safety issue.”
Some people try to emphasize the pronunciation to distinguish the two saying co-VELL and COW-ell, but Dunning tells us we’ve still got it all wrong.
“I used to emcee the Covell award ceremony, and I was told I mispronounced the name the first time I said it,” Dunning said. “If somebody says CO-vell, you know they’re a real native.”
Fruits and nuts
It’s easy to see certain groupings of names when scanning the map. There’s a batch of marine-related streets near Stonegate: Oyster Bay, Trawler Place, Shelter Cove Avenue.
“I call those the Water Streets,” Dunning explained. “The one that really took off was the Bird Streets. Now I get letters from people signing themselves just ‘Rick from the Bird Streets,’ ” referring to the grouping of raptor- and songbird-related street names in North Davis.
He’s certain that there are also Fruit and Nut Streets. “One guy says he’s from a Tree Street, but he’s from Orange Lane. That’s a Fruit Street! An orange isn’t a tree, it’s a fruit. You buy it in a grocery store. It belongs with Plum and Lemon. The Tree Streets are names like Hackberry and Mulberry. Walnut must be one of the Nut Streets. And on another Nut Street, residents have taken things into their own hands. On the street sign, they’ve altered ‘Pecan PL’ to ” ‘Pecan Pie.’ ”
There are other groupings such as the artistic (Picasso, Monet, O’Keeffe), educational (Stanford, Radcliffe, Notre Dame) and county-named streets (Glenn, El Dorado, Humboldt, Amador). Another grouping in Wildhorse could be called artistic, but in actuality might be a tribute to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello).
Some city street names abruptly change when they hit the university. First Street becomes Peter J. Shields Avenue, Anderson becomes La Rue and College Park becomes Howard Way.
“And you notice how Eureka is blocked at College Park?” Dunning asked. “It’s like they don’t want to be associated with people outside the circle, so the unwashed masses won’t get it. Heaven forbid a pickup truck drive in there, or even worse, a Pinto!”
Another set of name changes that sometimes confuses newcomers is Fifth Street becoming Russell Boulevard, which later splits into Russell and Arlington Drive farther west. This happened because existing streets were joined to help traffic flow, according to Johnson. When the eastern tail was added in Mace Ranch, developers just had to give it yet a fourth name: Oceano.
Private streets may be named by their residents, according to Johnson. The businesses along the east end of Putah Creek named their private road Arboretum Terrace, and one small group of homeowners that shared a common drive wanted to name their road with a literary feel, so they went for Dickens Terrace. (All private streets have Terrace as a suffix.)
If Dunning had his druthers, the roundabouts would get their own names. What would he name them?
“That’s easy. Roundabouts should definitely be named after politicians!” he said. “How about we sell naming rights, like at AT&T Park? We could generate a little revenue for the city. Let’s do it for the toad tunnel, too.”