A Homestead Headlines Article by Chuck Oldenburg
The earliest reference to La Verne Ave. in Homestead Valley is the 1902 Tamalpais Land & Water Co. Map #6. The history of Homestead is replete with the name La Verne. From 1909 to 1914, the La Verne post office was in Cooper’s Grocery on what is now Linden Lane—Homesteaders’ mail was addressed to La Verne, California. During the La Verne post office era, the Homestead community was called La Verne, and Homestead School became La Verne School. In 1911, the La Verne Heights development offered lots for sale in what is now the Pixie Trail area. In 1914 there was a La Verne baseball team. In 1916, the La Verne Public Highway Lighting District maintained the street lights.
The question is often asked, “Where does the name La Verne come from?” Le Petit Larousse French dictionary confuses the issue: Le Vergne or Le Verne are old nouns which are masculine, not feminine. The English meaning is alder tree. Today, the French word for alder tree is l’aulne, and it is masculine.
La Verne, California today is a city of 32,000 near Claremont. In 1888, La Verne and Lordsburg had been two side-by-side townships. In 1917, the city of Lordsburg changed its name to La Verne, which was the name of a neighborhood in Lordsburg. Good timing—three years earlier La Verne, California was in Homestead Valley.
The name La Verne for the original township had been chosen by Mrs. L.H. Bixby and her sister Mrs. Lyman Allen. Their family had been camping in the area since 1883 and had moved there in 1886. The sisters chose the name La Verne, they thought meant “growing green” or “spring-like” in French. They knew the French word also meant “alder tree,”
but they focused on its other meaning. Perhaps they thought that “verne” had something to do with the Latin word from which we get the adjective “vernal.” But what about the noun gender problem? Even though Le Verne might have been correct, La Verne sounds so much better.
My French etymological research into the origin of the word la verne came up with many possibilities. One that I liked was a goddess of Greek origin named “Laverna” which people worshipped in a grove of trees. The best explanation is that for many centuries in the south of France, la verne referred to an alder tree or a grove of alder trees. In the south of France there are a few villages and two ancient monasteries named La Verne. However, when the French language of the south, Langue d’oc, was integrated into the French language of the north, Langue d’oil, all names of trees became masculine nouns. Thus La Verne became Le Verne. I conclude that on the 1902 map, La Verne Ave. likely refers to the alder tree. A 1897 map of Mill Valley has Birch St. and Cypress Ave. which both terminate at Edgewood Ave., the north border of Homestead Valley. Thus Laverne Ave. is in good company. As for the French, they now use l’aulne orl’aune for alder tree.
If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.