[Los Angeles Times] Sepulveda, Sherman, Tarzana: The most interesting stories behind the Valley’s street names

Tujunga, Topanga and Cahuenga
Three names from California Native Americans remain on big Valley streets — Tujunga, Topanga and Cahuenga. Tujunga is a tidy avenue from Universal City to Sun Valley, its name altered from the Tongvan language “tuhuunga,” meaning “place of the old woman.” This was per UCLA’s emeritus linguistics prof and Native American languages whiz Pamela Munro. A Times story of three decades ago says the word was thought to mean “big thunder” in the Tataviam language of a tribe of Valley Native Americans.

It can be quite the heady sensation to drive through the San Fernando Valley, along those wide boulevards named for history’s great men — Isaac Newton, Moses, Vasco Nunez.

Oh, my mistake. Those are their first names. The full names are Isaac Newton Van Nuys, Moses Sherman, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, and their surnames are the streets’ names: Van Nuys, Sherman, Balboa.

Balboa was the first European to lay peepers on the Pacific Ocean. Van Nuys and Sherman were owners of acres of Southern California land so vast they could be measured not just in acres but in square miles.

Los Angeles history website waterandpower.org declares with substantial truth that “if you want to know the history of the San Fernando Valley, read the street signs.”

The names on the blue and white city signs rarely memorialize the Native Americans whose lands these were, nor the Spanish missionaries and ranchers who divvied them up into demesnes more enormous than dukedoms.

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