Richer Than Croesus


When I drive to work, I avoid the 105. It’s the only sane thing to do. If I take surface streets to work, I average a 40 minute commute. If I am foolish enough to take the 105 to the 110, then my commute averages a little bit over an hour. Sheesh.

So, I always drive west on Imperial Highway, and right before I get to Wilmington Ave., I pass a street called “Croesus.” For weeks now, I had been meaning to look up the street name; for some reason, the word really stuck in my mind. My first guess was that it was some type of flower. But my classical training kept telling me, “It’s not a flower!”

Turns out that Croesus was a Lydian king from the fifth century BC. Odd, since there aren’t any other streets in that area with names of ancient Greek origin. While mentioned in Herodotus’ Histories, I don’t remember anything about him from my readings. Wikipedia, however, is kind enough to tell me not just his history, but also that Croesus is synonymous with “a wealthy man.”

The climax of this minor history lesson is to point out that the intersection of Croesus and Imperial is the location of the Imperial Courts–these depressed-looking federally-subsidized housing projects built in 1944.

I think the developers were a bunch of dicks.


7 thoughts on “Richer Than Croesus”

  1. I’ve passed by that housing project on Croesus a number of times, and the irony of it never escapes me. I keep thinking “This must be some kind of horrific accident, and not one of the most racist Fuck Yous in civil engineering history.”

  2. Croesus Ave. was named in 1926, the same year the Watts area was annexed to the City of Los Angeles – well before Imperial Courts was built in 1944.

    I think it’s quite a stretch to see that as either “a horrific accident” or “one of the most racist Fuck Yous in civil engineering history.”

    But maybe I just don’t have the sensitivity cranked up high enough on my racism detector.

  3. And of course Imperial Courts – like Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens – were originally built as housing for workers in defense industries during WWII, in an attempt to alleviate the severe housing shortage caused by the huge influx of war workers to the LA area.

    I suppose if the developers had anticipated that their hastily-constructed low-cost worker housing would one day become subsidized housing for the poor, they mightn’t have been such “dicks” as to locate it on a street named after a wealthy king.

  4. All my attempts to find more information online on the history of street names in Los Angeles (Croesus in particular) came up empty. I can only work with the information I find. I was left with no choice but to speculate wildly. :D

    Of course, it may not be about race or class at all, and just an unfortunate coincidence across the sands of time.

    … But even if the street came first and the buildings second, “workers in defense industries during WWII” could hardly be considered the economic créme de la créme of society.

    Mr. MapNerd, do you have a site dedicated to such tidbits of info? I find them fascinating. Sorry if the article struck a nerve with you. Odds are you are a city planner or engineer of some sort. If that’s the case, then accept my humble suggestion that street names get such innocuous names like “windy meadow lane” or “marigold drive” but not “ironic kick in the groin avenue”.

  5. For street names in LA, try the LA Department of Public Works’ Engineering Automated Street Inventory System (EASIS) Query Panel at

    Once it finds the street you want, click on the “View Images” link, which will display scanned copies of the DPW’s handwritten/typed file cards that record the origins and history of the street.

    It won’t tell you why a street was named the way it was or who it was named after, but it will tell you when it happened.

    Mr. MapNerd, do you have a site dedicated to such tidbits of info?

    Sorry, but no. I’ve been working on some ideas, but various personal circumstances have conspired to keep me from having enough time to finish them. What I really need is a 28-hour day. :-)

    Odds are you are a city planner or engineer of some sort.

    Nope. :-) Just a humble MapNerd with a longstanding interest in Los Angeles and its history.

  6. Oh, and to clarify – I said, above, that Croesus Ave. was named in 1926.

    More precisely, that’s when the name was first recorded by the LA DPW. Since that’s also the same year Watts was annexed to LA, it’s quite possible that the street name preceded the annexation.

    The area was first subdivided and developed during the real estate boom of the 1880s, and was a prominent stop on the the Long Beach line of the Pacific Electric, which opened in 1902 – the very first of Henry Huntington’s standard-gauge electric interurban lines.

    A dedicated Watts line opened around 1904, and Watts was incorporated as an independent city in 1907, so it’s possible that the street and its name considerably preceded the town’s annexation to Los Angeles.

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