The first Action Item on the city council’s agenda last Monday seemed fairly low-key; appoint a sub committee to weigh in on the process of naming a public parkway after the late Judge Harold Cherness. The point of concern, from those requesting the honorary name, was that this was taking a very long time. During the council meeting, the details of the policy involved got thicker and more obtuse. It left me wondering – Why do we seek to name things after people? Who are the people who want things named after them?
The idea that it’s a memorial to someone who put a lot of time and effort into Culver City is certainly nice. Cherness did a lot for the community both as an activist and as a judge. He was one of the founding members of Temple Akiba. He worked to get Culver City things like street lights and sewers. Governor Jerry Brown appointed Cherness to the municipal court bench for the Culver Judicial District where he presided from 1975 until 1995. Devoted husband and father; all highly commendable.
Things have been named after people for far less. It is such a small space, I don’t know that it is even worthy of commemorating Cherness. It’s a few square feet of grass, really.
What the Cherness family is asking is for the parkway (that’s the area between the curb and the sidewalk) in front of the old courthouse (now the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum) to be named after Judge Harold I. Cherness, and there is main sticking point. The building belongs to the county, not the city. The parkway belongs to the city, but it’s a busy intersection (Overland and Culver) and additional signage was considered distracting.
Still, I can’t quite grasp the urge to name a location, a site or a building, after a person no matter how large their legacy. It makes me think of pharaohs who built pyramids as memorials, only to have other pharaohs change the faces on the statuary, or sandblast the inscriptions. It makes me think of every highway sign “The-What’s-His-Name Memorial Highway,” which prompts everyone who drives by it every day to go “Whoever he was …” Anyone who has ever seen a statue in a park or a plaza knows it is a restroom for pigeons.
The recent loss of Shuji Kurokawa, a Culver City resident and an architect of international stature, brought together friends and family to mourn his passing. His wife Karen spoke about the beautiful hundred-year old tree in the yard, and how they considered themselves to be caretakers of the magnificent spruce. How to keep the tree from being taken down by future development was a puzzle. “I know!” There was a comment, “We can get a historical designation as a memorial to Shuji, and nice bronze plaque, and then they CAN’T cut it down!” Karen sighed, “Very lovely idea, but Shuji wouldn’t want that.” Putting a plaque on a tree would spoil the simplicity of nature’s design.
There is a memorial bench in Lindberg Park dedicated to Travis DeZarn, a young man killed in a traffic accident. It’s not there because of his civic history or his professional accomplishments. It’s there because friends and neighbors, Carter Armstrong, and John and Challie DeFaria wanted to do something, just something to commemorate his life for his family and his friends. It’s a simple bench, facing in towards the park and the trees. It’s a lovely place to sit and think of how sweet life is, and how fleeting. I love that bench – it’s a functional memorial.
It was noted during the council meeting that Cherness was very good friends with Syd Kronenthal. Perhaps, rather than a parkway near a repurposed building, those who want to create a public memorial might consider adding a feature to Syd Kronenthal Park. How about a memorial street light?
If it’s important to have a memorial – parkway or pyramid – it will probably not inspire anyone to go and discover all the good works of the one whose name is honored. No matter how noted the name, time will erase it.
There’s a classic old poem, Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelly that offers a glimpse of a ruined statue with a statement. I read it when I was in middle school, and it may well be the reason I think there’s no point in naming a building or posting a plaque.