In Stevenson Ranch, a suburb of Valencia not a half mile from my house, there is an area called “The Arts”. It was not surprising to me that builders in this area would decide to borrow some of the cache of the famous school down the street, the California Institute of the Arts. Because, really, as art colleges goes this is up there with Yale and the Rhode Island School of Design for being a top tear art school. I assure you, me who worships at the alter of post modern contemporary conceptual art am impressed every time I pass the school. I say things to myself like “Judy Chicago has taken that road” and “I might see John Baladassari at the Whole Foods” or “perhaps Roy Lichtenstein once got gas at this Shell station”. As cheesy and white bread as Valencia is, and it is, it also is home to a college that is too cool for Valencia. Cal Arts seems like it would be more at home in NYC, rather in the town with the largest number of master planned communities in the United States. But thanks to Walt Disney who built and funded the college it is here, in Valencia.
When I heard about “The Arts” area I was sure that the streets would be named for famous visual artists. Maybe famous Cal Arts professors like John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson, Barbara Krueger, Roy Lichtenstein or Judy Chicago would have a street named for them or maybe famous artist alums such as David Salle,Tony Oursler and Mike Kelley might merit a mention. And, if not visual artists then at least some of Cal Arts famous graduates like Tim Burton, Sofia Coppola, John Lassater or Pee Wee Herman. I was so excited that He-weasel and I decided to take a look at “The Arts” area because even if it meant we would be living in a Master Planned community we might be able to find a house on Laurie Anderson Lane, Tim Burton Blvd. or Pee Way Way.
Alas, no such streets are to be found. Instead of being luminaries from Cal Arts the streets in “The Arts” area are named for the household names of the cannon of literature. The main two streets in the “Arts”area are Hemingway and Steinbeck. It seems that the city planners have decided these two deserve the big streets( I feel sure if Shakespeare was alive he would have had something to say about that as would Faulkner). I can, it turns out, get my clothes dry cleaned at Hemingway Cleaners on Hemingway Avenue. If I do will when I wear those clothes feel inspired to write about bulls, broads and battles? To get to Lily’s vet I must travel with her on the road of the author of “Travels with Charlie.”
Other streets in this literary who’s-who of housing include: Faulkner, Webster, Shaw, Wilde, Dickens, Burns, Frost, London, Poe, Irving, Keats, Coleridge, Emerson, Fitzgerald, Longfellow, Elliot, Blake, Carroll, Twain, Dickens, Durant, Shakespeare and Tennyson.
Sadly there are only a few streets named for famous women writers in “The Arts” neighborhood yet even those streets are marked by identity confusion. Is Bronte Street named for either or both Charlotte and/or Emily? Is Browning named for Robert or Elizabeth Barrett and which Shelley is the intended namesake? I was most sorry to see that Thomas Wolfe got a street and Virginia Woolf did not. Perhaps the builders would feel a moral obligation to create rooms of one’s own in houses on Woolf Way and the budget wouldn’t allow it so Woolf was replaced by the author of “You can’t go home again.” I wonder if that means the road is always blocked off?
There are other writer’s who are not included who seem natural namesakes for residential roads: Edith Wharton and her house of mirth; Hawthorne and his house of seven gables; Irving and his cider house; Ibsen and his doll’s house; Dostoevsky and his house of the dead( which I suppose is a little too depressing to attract home buyers) as is Styron’s burning house which would have been best located near the fire station. I suppose that E.M. Forester Road was edited out because most of the homes in these developments are lacking views.
The homes in this neighborhood are nice enough but are certainly not worthy of the kind of inspired genius of the literary icons the roads are named for. I see these homes more at home on Jan Karon Court, Harold Robbins Row, Dean Koontz Drive, Sidney Sheldon Street and Robert Ludlum Lane. However, there are few streets I would consider for their names alone. I would LOVE to be a highly talented litigious recluse on Salinger Lane. And, Burroughs Way? What a trip that would be!! I do prefer a road less traveled which makes Frost Lane a very good option for me. However, can a home that requires membership to a Home Owner’s Association, that limits which colours you can paint your house and what trees you plant, really be a road less traveled?
At first I was a bit perturbed that Stevenson Ranch eschewed the famous names of Cal Arts Alums and instead chose to name the streets for writers and then I thought to myself, “Self, what the heck are you thinking? This means that you are not the only writer in Valencia and that you are in pretty good company and if you keep at it and someday manage to get a book or two published you might even get your own street.” Maybe a Belette Blvd. or a Rouge Road? I would even settle for an alley in a bad part of town. It would seem only right that it be a street that no one would want to live on as that has been my feelings about Valencia ever since we arrived. Probably better to stick to dead writers who have never been here and didn’t have such open antipathy. That said, I feel sure if Dickens had ever had the chance to visit Valencia he might have written a sequel to “Bleak House”, “Bleak Master Planned Community”.