OLD NEWS: Long Beach’s century-long problem of pronouncing ‘Junipero’

Editor’s note: “Old News” is an occasional series looking at some of Long Beach’s quirky and interesting historical stories and headlines.

It’s a problem that’s been around for 100 years: What’s the correct pronunciation of Long Beach’s Junipero Avenue?

It’s an old question in these parts and one that can ignite barroom brawls as well as quick, though hardly amicable divorces.

The Post, in fact, grappled with the pronunciation in October 2019, followed by a “Can You Hear Me, Long Beach?” podcast in November. Blood was spilled in what should have been a calm and civil argument, but let’s try to forget all that unpleasantness and see just how long this phonetics flap has been going on.

PODCAST: Word on the street (sign); Tim Grobaty and Stephanie Rivera talk Junipero

Well, it’s been going on for at least a century. Maybe longer. There was a light news article buried on Page 11 in the July 27, 1920 Long Beach Press, with the headline, “Junipero Bobs Up Serenely as Linguistic Snag.”

The reporter, given the enviable job of covering a Board of Education meeting, noted that board member George W. Scott was rambling on, reading from a list of local street names, when he got to the problematic Junipero, at which point he whispered a query for the correct pronunciation from his colleague E.J. Wightman, who gave him what the reporter called the “mission-style” and arguably (as has been demonstrated over the past 100 years) the correct Spanish enunciation of who-KNEE-purr-o, whereupon, “very gently but firmly, Miss [Julia Ellen] Rogers corrected him with the Long Beach version, wan-knee-PAIR-o.”

And then the Press reporter, interjecting himself, albeit self-effacingly by noting his education “has been neglected along Spanish lines,” insisted on what he termed the “tourist pronunciation, joon-ee-PAIR-o.”

So, the three-way tie was established, and the decades have passed with no sides of the triangle ceding territory in the interim, so the battle rages on, as we squabble and argue bitterly into the topic’s second century of debate.

The 1920’s Press reporter did bring a bit of levity into the skirmish, noting that “over at the Hoyt [Theater], the comedian who needs a laugh tells of the cop who found a dead dog on Junipero and dragged it to First Street before making his report.”

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
- ADVERTISEMENT -

More