‘Windsor’ evokes aspiration; ‘Kingsley,’ ‘Kipling’ moved residents forward

| January 29, 2020 | 0 Comments


The need to look back in time or to another country for a style or name suggests cultural insecurity. Without established homegrown models or points of reference, or at least without ready signals to achieve the desired ambiance, developers and city planners borrow from a real or imagined place and past.

The strain of presumption becomes comic when there is too large a gap between the ideal invoked and the actual place: for example, decades ago “Grubbs,” a small town in Delaware, became the idyllic sounding “Arden.” Our Arden Blvd. didn’t need such a rechristening. From the start, the developers of the time struck a distinctly English note that played in tune with other choices: Victoria Avenue and Windsor Boulevard come immediately to mind, as does Windsor Square and Windsor Village. And “Larchmont” too suggests something rather posh.

It’s common to attribute such gestures to mere snobbishness. But while social pretensions are surely part of the story, snobbishness doesn’t align with those feelings of insecurity. Early residents, it’s worth remembering, sought rewards that could only be realized by risks. In this vein, Victoria or Windsor suggests not self-satisfaction so much as eager aspiration. And “Plymouth” doesn’t so much invoke a past accomplishment as claim a new foundation to build upon.

Charles Kingsley

Kingsley Street captures in its name a breadth of attitudes from early 20th-century Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods. It suggests, if we look to support the snob thesis, “from the King’s wood.” But surely the meaning behind this street name attaches more to Charles Kingsley — an English clergyman, novelist and pamphleteer who died in 1875. His works, especially “Westward Ho!” and “The Water Babies,” were still well known in the early years of the 20th century. And Kingsley was, as much as anyone, the force behind “muscular Christianity.” Without actually reading any of his works, an educated Southern Californian of the teens and ’20s would associate the name with energy, masculinity and a “never say die” confidence. Kingsley’s racist, misogynistic and imperialist tendencies would not back then have been noteworthy or even objectionable to most residents of the area.

Rudyard Kipling

On the corner of Kingsley and Third, just west of Ardmore, stands the Kipling Apartments, formerly the Kipling Hotel, a building from the 1920s (take note if you have not; it’s lovely). Rudyard Kipling was (unlike Kingsley) genuinely popular at the time, actually read by the public as opposed to being merely “known.” He was thought of as an heir of Kingsley, one who carried forward the elder’s notions of manly vigor and — alas — the white man’s burden. Again, in context of the time and the place, the latter attitude would be unremarkable and the former celebrated.

We still have the names about the neighborhood of these two British writers who have long fallen out of fashion. Yet, we have no Twain Street, or Whitman Avenue. No Poe Alley or Melville Blvd. And also no Emily Dickinson Hotel or Emerson Grill. And on the British side, nothing to invoke Dickens, Thackeray or George Eliot. In their different ways, these writers — from either side of the Atlantic — problematized life in ways Kingsley or Kipling did not. Those two felt moving forward meant not looking inward. They didn’t value reflection so much as projection. A Kingsley Street or a Kipling Hotel was for those who were going somewhere. That’s an attitude early real estate developers and residents could embrace.

John Kipling

Of course, none of us really knows what’s ahead. History takes turns we do not foresee and do not recognize when the turn arrives. And we are all, Kingsley and Kipling included, complicated. No human is a type. That’s partly the point of David Haig’s play, “My Boy Jack.” It takes up Kipling’s tragic reckoning with his own myth-making. John Kipling, Rudyard’s only son, was killed in World War I, barely eight weeks after his enlistment. He had recently turned 18, and he would not have been in the military at all without his father’s active intervention. It’s a heartbreaking play, well worth seeing, and available (in a concentrated version) as a British television production that PBS picked up in 2007. John Kipling went missing in 1915. His death was only confirmed three years later. His body was not recovered in his father’s lifetime. During these years of emotional devastation for the man, the name “Kipling” remained a signal of spirited and promising adventure. No ghosts would be allowed to haunt the hotel on the corner of Third and Kingsley.

By Bruce Beiderwell

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Category: Entertainment

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