Formerly Known As

Saturday night and I’m navigating through Los Angeles on my way to a concert in Hollywood. ‘The Avalon,’ I say to myself looking at my tickets. ‘I’ve never heard of the Avalon.’ I know the street location well, but the club name is a mystery to me. As I get closer, my radar clicks in and I say, ‘Oh, The Palace.’

I don’t know why The Avalon is presumed to be a more appealing name than The Palace. Apparently, new owners think renaming the nearly eighty-year-old venue whose marquee has displayed a series of names reflecting Hollywood history through the years – but has been called The Palace since the early 70s – is a smart move. Or maybe these owners just wanted a chance to stamp their own mark. In the least, I know that renaming is a trend. A disturbing trend.

The Universal Amphitheater is now the Gibson Amphitheater, though ticket broker websites post ‘formerly known as the Universal Amphitheater,’ which begs the question, if the venue was so well known that we’ll be lost without the prompt of the previous name, can’t you just leave the original name intact? Yes, the complainers will die off and the next generation will be born into the new name, but as the youngsters age, the name may change another six times. Then they, too, can join the fun of playing ‘Name That Venue.’

The Irvine Meadows is now the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (doesn’t that just roll off your tongue?) Candlestick Park is now Monster Park.

When can I start screaming?

Could you imagine if people changed their names with the same regularity? ‘Who?? That’s ‘who’?? Ohhhh…

What’s the point of a name if not for identification? Oh, right. Publicity.

I understand as arenas pass from one owner to another, the company buying the locale wants its name on the marquee for advertising power. Great. We remember your name but have no idea where we’re going. The benefit of that is what exactly? Can’t you buy an arena, keep the name, and just plaster your banners everywhere inside? Oh wait, the plastering happens anyway. Do you not understand how we mock you as we watch musicians onstage and see wireless ads on every surface in the room? Do you not understand how this annoys us and may prompt us to switch to a less intrusive competitor (if only one existed)?

How’s that for a marketing campaign: We bought the arena, but left the name intact.

Talk about a new fan base.

Imagine if parents were as fickle with names. ‘Well, we tried Jack, but that didn’t really take, so we switched to Austin.’ Or, ‘We got a sponsor for our son, hence the name change.

That’s it. We could start auctioning off our kids as real estate, a new way to procure money for the college fund. Sure it would be confusing if three PacTel’s registered for kindergarten, only to register in second grade as Airtouch (a much better name, I might inject), followed by Verizon two years later (the name evolution of my cell provider due to mergers and acquisitions), but hey, if it’s to make a little money, what’s the big deal?

While I can tolerate the merger and acquisition name changes much like I make adjustments for marriages and resulting hyphenates and adoptions, I still can’t accept the disregard for the historic value of venue names and the lack of understanding of ‘a time and a place for everything.’ I’m happy to have a cellphone under the Verizon label, but I much prefer to visit a venue with a more romantic name. I need not be reminded during every journey of the corporate sponsorship of the world.

These name changes paint over the past and rob us of a connection to history, relegating it to the results of Google searches. If a small venue on the verge of disappearance changes its name in an attempt to secure survival, I can understand, but when a corporation imposes its name in an act of self-promotion – even if it paid for the right – I see the behavior as brazen and disrespectful.

Simple economics,’ you say.

I know,’ I respond. ‘But it makes me sad.

Call me a romantic.

The practical side of me wants a solution as to how to impact corporate behavior in this arena (pun intended.) If mockery alone could succeed, I’d lead that revolution, but these corporations have a very thick skin. And we can’t launch boycotts of the venues, for if ticket sales drop, the company will just sell off the arena prompting yet another name change (ouch).

As a romantic, I have wistful thoughts more than concrete solutions. The best I can come up with is self-serving acquiescence. I have a very talented musician as a son. He's lusting for a new electric bass for Christmas, and I see a baby grand piano in his future. In order to facilitate these dreams, I think I could get used to calling out ‘Ibanez!’ or ‘Steinway!’ when seeking help with the groceries. It's hardly a solution, but this way I can send my son to college, and maybe with the help of a fine education, he can come up with a solution of his own.


Girlplustwo said...


If I buy your son the guitar, can we have my name printed on it and he can call it Jen instead?

seriously...I so know what you mean..and it's so ridiculous.

Kinda like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim....

Emily said...

Very well put...you've hit on such a thing that is so irritating. I think you should really pioneer that corporate sponsorship of kids...I think it could really take off :)

Anonymous said...

In the Twin Cities, a similar thing has been happening with a landmark deparment store.

Dayton's used to be owned by a local family and was THE place that folks "went up to the city" to shop.

Sometime in the 70's I think, they bought a chain of stores in Ohio called Hudsons and became Dayton-Hudson. Not too bad. We still get the Dayton's part. After all, these people are like family.

Then Dayton-Hudson was bought by Marshall Fields. And they dared to change the name of all the Dayton's stores. It was on the news for weeks before it happened. There were letters to the editor. People were UPSET. Some people refused to call the stores by the new name.

"I'm going to Dayton's on Saturday. Do you want to come with?"

"Dayton's? You mean Marshall Fields?"

"You know what I mean!"

(BTW, that "want to come with" phrase is a local idiosyncracy that drives transplants crazy.)

And then, this year, Marshall Fields was bought by Macy's and they changed the name AGAIN. And again, it was all over the local news media.

And there are still people who refuse to stop calling it Dayton's.

These Scandanavians can be a stubborn bunch.

Anonymous said...

Here in Chicago, Comiskey Park is now US Cellular Field. Ugh. You wouldn't even know what that was if you didn't already know it was a ballpark. Sounds like some sort of federal nuclear testing ground or something.

kristen said...

I hate the renaming of everything and I especially hate that The Palace isn't The Palace any longer. I saw the Waitresses there and also the Residents. Silly I know, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And I know there are other, more clever ways to incorporate your logo as a new owner, than to change a classic venue just to see your name in the lights.

mist1 said...

I change my name every time I get pulled over. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, I go to jail.

Anonymous said...

As usual, a good post. Interesting point. How many times have they changed the name of "Cape Canaveral" over the years?

Just goes to show ~ just about anything is for sale.