How Leesdale became Victory Boulevard

Diana Lipari emailed a question:

Originally when the town of Van Nuys was plotted in 1911, what is now Victory Boulevard was called “7th Avenue.” Sometime circa 1916, “7th Avenue” changed to “Leesdale.” In the mid-1920’s, “Leesdale” was changed to Victory Boulevard in honor of the the returning soldiers from World War 1. I have searched high and low for the origin of “Leesdale” but have found nothing to explain the reason for the change or any connection whatsoever to anyone or anything in the San Fernando Valley. Any ideas? This is speculation, but I suspect Leesdale Street was named for a beet-growing area in Ventura County. After the Valley received irrigation water from the Owens Valley aqueduct (around 1915), sugar beets became a main cash crop. The company that grew the beets was run by the Henry Oxnard family and based in the town of the same name; Leesdale was one of its big farms. On early maps of the Valley, Oxnard Street and Leesdale Street were laid out, a half-mile apart, as main roads through the beet fields south of the town of Owensmouth (now Canoga Park). You can see it on my 1924 map, a fragment of which appears on this page.

As for the rest of the story: In the teens and ’20s, as the old rural Valley became absorbed into Los Angeles, many streets were renamed to avoid conflicts with the existing map downtown. The farm towns of Van Nuys and Lankershim originally had numbered streets, for example, so they had to be changed. The way it worked was that if a road in one Valley town generally lined up with a road miles away, they often were given the same new name—even if the roads themselves did not yet connect. That occured with Seventh Street, which took the name Leesdale, even though no actual road yet ran between Van Nuys and the section of Leesdale in the beet fields out west.

By 1923, a Van Nuys group called the Leesdale Improvement Association unveiled big plans. They envisioned their street as an 80-foot-wide “great east-and-west boulevard” through the Valley. The next year, they asked the city to change the name to Victory Boulevard, and also got the new route paved as far west as Balboa Boulevard. There it stopped. Victory Boulevard did not extend to the West Valley until the 1950s. During World War II, in fact, the Birmingham Army Hospital grounds at Balboa blocked the future route of Victory.

By the way, 1924 was also the year that Eucalyptus Avenue in the town of Lankershim became Colfax, Second Street became Moorpark, Third Street became Camarillo and Sixth Street became Oxnard. The following year, Van Nuys Boulevard came into existence as the new name of North Sherman Way. Sometimes the name changes were capricious. For a brief moment in December 1925, the leg of Van Nuys Boulevard that runs from Ventura Boulevard south to Valley Vista was to be called Zahn Avenue—solely because at the committee meeting where the names were decided, city councilman Otto Zahn came in late. Sober minds prevailed.