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L.A.'s Westside: Where readers say it starts

July 24, 2010 |  7:59 am

Last month, The Times challenged readers to answer one of L.A.'s most elusive questions: Where does the Westside start?

The answer came in the form of 500 comments, including more than 300 maps drawn by readers, with borders ranging from Lincoln to La Brea and beyond*.

A Times analysis of the results showed that while no one definition approached a majority, certain patterns were clear.

The 405 Freeway leads all other landmarks in the race to be declared the Westside's eastern border, appearing in nearly 25% of reader comments. The freeway is closely trailed by other definitions, including a dozen different streets as well as less precise offerings such as traffic, beauty, beaches and Buddhist enlightenment.

The map above shows the L.A. neighborhoods that readers most frequently included in their versions of the Westside. Each time a reader map overlapped with a neighborhood, the neighborhood's score increased. The darkest neighborhoods are the ones readers included most frequently.

Consensus couldn't be found, but several sets of partisans emerged. They include:

The 405 Faithful

The 405 Freeway was the most common answer, a position readers buttressed with appeals to tradition.

"Grew up in the Valley. (pre Zappa)," said b martins. "Westside has always been west of 405 north of 10."

The La Cienega Set

As popular a marker as the 405 Freeway was, many readers demanded a broader definition. Answers varied widely, but La Cienega Boulevard outnumbered any other city street.

"Basically, Mulholland to the north, Santa Monica Fwy to the south, and La Cienega Blvd. to the east," said Robert. "Anybody who says the Westside ends at the 405 is pretty sheltered and doesn't have a very good feel for the city they live in."

The Downtownists

A small but committed group of readers let the city's early history be their guide and cited downtown L.A. as the dividing line. This group tended to see the city as two parts, one west and one east, with no need for anything in between, like The Times' Central L.A.

"It's just geography people," said Jerome. "If Downtown is the center of the city ... then the west side is anything from downtown to the ocean."

The Potter Stewart School

Not everyone picked a city street as their dividing line. A number of readers defined the Westside using the fuzzier measures of class, race and way of life.

"You're cruising down Beverly or Santa Monica Blvd, minding your own business, when all of sudden WHAM, you realize you're surrounded by smug rich white people," said Eric. "What could possibly be going on? You my friend, have entered the Westside Zone. (dee-dee-doo-doo-dee-dee-doo-doo)."

Times Database Editor Doug Smith, a life-long Angeleno and UCLA Bruin, helped craft the Westside boundaries used in Mapping L.A. He said he sides with this camp, drawing a comparison between his method and Justice Potter Stewart's famous approach to defining pornography.

"It's something you feel as you're driving west. You could drive down Santa Monica Boulevard and you'd feel it," Smith said. "You're in a different world."

Does Smith plan to revise The Times' version of the Westside in response to reader maps?

"No. We won't make changes," he said. "Ours is built for the Mapping L.A. site, with a community-first approach. So the regions will continue to be a collection of communities. They are the building blocks."

"If we cut it off at the 405, what are we going to call the rest?" he asked. "The near Westside?"

Ben Welsh

* Readers listed each of the following as a potential eastern boundary: Lincoln, Centinela, The 405, Westwood, Doheny, Robertson, La Cienega, Fairfax, La Brea, Highland, Rimpau, Western, Vermont, The 110, Main, and, finally, the L.A. River.

Map: Ben Welsh and Thomas Suh Lauder