Driving through the Coachella Valley can be a memorable experience, and not just because of the spectacular sights.
Many celebrities and politicians who have made their homes here have streets named after them. Seeing their names in lights again is like taking a trip down memory lane.
Have you ever been a stranger in the night on Wonder Palms Road? That street is now known as Frank Sinatra Drive. Have you ever lost hope while driving down Rio del Sol? That street is now called Bob Hope Drive. If you’ve ever encountered any singing cowboys on Bogie Road, you’ve probably been hiking on Gene Autry Trail.
All of this started when former movie star, Charles Farrell, became mayor of Palm Springs. Farrell, who founded the famous Racquet Club, had Farrell Drive named after him.
Even Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall has his own street on the former Van Fleet Avenue. Tourists are encouraged to guess which house he lives in. They’re asked, “Does Monty live behind door No. 1, door No. 2, or door No. 3?”
Having a street named after a famous person always sounds more interesting than using numbered streets. For instance, 34th Avenue is now Dinah Shore Drive, and 36th Avenue is now Gerald Ford Drive. Even band leader Fred Waring had 44th Avenue named after him. I wonder what Waring was wearing during the dedication ceremony.
The East Valley is home to streets named after the presidents. Motorists can find themselves driving down Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison or Monroe Streets. I’m still waiting for them to name a street after the Mathis Brothers in West Indio.
It’s easy to tell who these streets were named after just by looking at the name. But there are other streets whose origins are more elusive. Take Palm Canyon Drive, for example. For the answer to that mystery, I consulted Riverside County Planning Commissioner Edward “Boom Boom” Finklestein.
I caught Ed in the parking lot as he was leaving his office one afternoon. “Can you tell me how Palm Canyon Drive got its name?” I asked him.
“Gotta go,” he said hurriedly. “It’s my Bingo night.” As I started walking away, he yelled back, “Check with Bunny LaRumba! She knows everything!”
Ed handed me Bunny’s card and gave a thrusting motion, confirming how he got the nickname “Boom Boom.”
The address on the card indicated that Bunny lived in the East Valley farming community of Thermal. I hopped on Interstate 10, which led me to Highway 86. Can’t they name freeways after people, too?
I entered a run-down trailer park and spotted the address. I knocked on the door, and Bunny came out to greet me.
“Boom Boom sent me here,” I explained.
“It must be his bingo night,” she surmised.
Bunny invited me in and proceeded to tell me her life story. As it turned out, she was named Miss Thermal in 1952. It was time to get down to business. “How did Palm Canyon Drive get its name?” I asked.
“It was named after a Kenyan with large palms,” she replied. “They used to call it Palm Kenyan Drive.”
Bunny continued. “When President Obama was growing up in Indonesia, he lived on Frank Sumatra Drive.”
I listened with intrigue. “Obama’s parents came to the Coachella Valley for a vacation and met Juan E. Levin, a local recluse. They later named Highway 111 after him.”
By now, I was on the edge of my seat. “Juan E. Levin wanted the stretch of Highway 111 that went through Palm Springs to have a different name. The Kenyan had large palms, and the rest is history.”
“I thought Obama was born in Hawaii,” I told her.
“You’ll have to check with Donald Trump about that whole birth-certificate thing,” she said.
As I’m sure you’ve realized by now, my encounters with Edward “Boom Boom” Finklestein and Bunny LaRumba were entirely fictitious. But this proves how rumors are spread. These rumors give birth to folklore that’s passed down from generation to generation.
It was a windy day in the Coachella Valley, and I decided to take a walk through one of our many canyons. As I hiked up the trail, a palm frond fell off a nearby tree and landed on my head. Suddenly, it all made sense. With all the palm trees and all the canyons in the area, it was no wonder they named the street Palm Canyon Drive.
I was thrilled with my discovery and started skipping with delight when I suddenly bumped into a tall man. It was President Obama!
“Don’t tell anyone I’m here,” he told me. “I was in town and decided to take a stroll.” Then he reached out to shake my hand.
“What large palms you have,” I said to the Kenyan in the canyon.
I wonder how Pennsylvania Avenue got its name.