Along Sunset Blvd in Echo Park, you’ll come across 32 bronze plaques between Mohawk Street and McDuff Street Terrace featuring the names of sports professionals both famous and obscure.
Avenue of the Athletes: Echo Park’s Homage to Sports
Everyone’s heard of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But comparatively few people know about some of the other walks of fame in Los Angeles — especially the mostly overlooked Avenue of the Athletes.
The Avenue of the Athletes is a series of 32 bronze plaques set in concrete of the sidewalk lining Sunset Boulevard in the commercial heart of Echo Park (though we were only able to find 31 of them). Each one features the name of an athlete of some renown displayed with a pictogram representing the sport they were famous for.
The plaques represent a diverse selection of sporting events including boxing, horse racing, basketball, tennis, swimming, diving, golf, track and field, football, and baseball. The athletes featured range from such notables as Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Sandy Koufax to many others you’ve probably never heard of (many of whom were Olympians from the 1950s and 1960s).
Compared to the stars along Hollywood Boulevard, the markers for the athletes are easily overlooked. They’re relatively small, about 12 inches wide by 16 inches tall, spread out sparsely along the street, and the weathered bronze blends quite nicely with the gray concrete sidewalk.
A Brief History of Echo Park’s Avenue of the Athletes
The Avenue of the Athletes is the brainchild of L. Andrew Castle, a man who came to Southern California for a career in the burgeoning film industry. Initially he worked for Charlie Chaplin’s studio, but at some point he transitioned from moving pictures to photography. When the Dodgers came to town in 1958, he was hired as the team photographer. Sometime later in his career he jumped to entrepreneur and opened a pair of camera shops — one in Hollywood and one in Echo Park.
From his shop in Hollywood, Castle noticed the Walk of Fame (installed in 1960) brought a steady stream of visitors to the area. He thought a similar idea devoted to athletes could turn the downtrodden section of Echo Park where he operated his shop into a tourist destination as well.
With the help of the Echo Park Chamber of Commerce — and his buddies from the Dodgers, who by then played in their new Chavez Ravine stadium just up the road — Castle was able to convince decision makers that this crazy idea of his would benefit the whole community.
The first plaques were placed in 1976, and a second set followed in 1977. The intention was to hold an annual ceremony for new inductees — but then Castle died in 1978. Almost immediately the enthusiasm for the Avenue of the Athletes died with him. The next set of plaques weren’t installed until 1980, and then there was often a long, dry spell between new athlete additions.
In October 1985 the last four plaques were installed along the Avenue of the Athletes — favorite son Tommy Lasorda, tennis star Billie Jean King, basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar (curiously, the only plaque on the Mohawk side after Alvarado), and a final plaque honoring L. Andrew Castle himself. The pictogram on Castle’s plaque is a pictogram in the the shape of a boxy camera.
After this last batch of athletes, the whole idea seems to have faded from the minds of anyone involved in organizing it — let alone anyone visiting the Echo Park shops and restaurants along Sunset Boulevard.
Strolling Along the Avenue of the Athletes
The Avenue of the Athletes runs just over a half-mile long, from McDuff Street (near Stereoscope Coffee) on the east to Mohawk Street (near Mohawk Bend) on the west. Oddly enough, the city installed an official blue sign marking the beginning of the Avenue of the Athletes, but it’s at Sunset and Allison Street, about 2,000 feet east of the first plaque — Billie Jean King — at McDuff Street.
If you decide to stroll along the avenue — and you should because it’s an enjoyable walk along a now-vibrant street — don’t forget to pay your respects to Warren Zevon at Burrito King, a favorite haunt of the late musician.
A List of the Athletes along the Avenue
Here’s a full account of the individuals represented by plaques along the Avenue of the Athletes along with the sport represented by the pictogram on the plaque.
Some of the plaques are marked with dates. This usually notes the Olympic Games where that athlete earned a medal. The use of dates is sporadic, however, and some of the athletes without dates (Jesse Owens, for example) still attended and even earned medals at various Olympic Games.
Many, but not all, of the athletes have some connection to Los Angeles or California. This is noted where applicable.
Avenue of the Athletes: North Side of Sunset
Starting at McDuff and walking west.
Billie Jean King. Tennis. Former No. 1 tennis player who, among her many achievements, won the “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs. She was born in Long Beach.
Sammy Lee 1948, 1952. The first Asian-American to win a gold medal for United States — he won gold medals in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. He was born in Fresno.
John Naber. Swimming. He won four gold medals and one silver medal in the 1976 Olympics and held the 200-meter backstroke world record for seven years. He graduated from USC.
Jackie Robinson. Baseball. Celebrated athlete from Pasadena who excelled in football, baseball, and track. He wore number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers (before the team moved to Los Angeles).
Bill Sharman. Basketball. Played for the Boston Celtics, but locally better known for coaching the 1972 Lakers to the team’s first championship win in Los Angeles. He was awarded the 1972 NBA Coach of the Year.
Thomas Lasorda. Baseball. Better known as Tommy, he served as coach (1973-1976) and manager (1976-1996) for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was named National League Manager of the Year twice (1983 and 1988) and wore number 2 for the Dodgers.
Ellsworth Vines. Tennis. Vines was the No. 1 tennis player for much of the 1930s. He was born in Los Angeles, attended USC, and a member of the Los Angeles Tennis Club.
Jimmy McLarnin. Boxing. An old-school boxer from the 1930s, he’s been called the greatest Irish boxer of all time and was a welterweight world champion twice over.
Kenny Washington. Football. The first African-American to sign with an NFL team — and that team was the Los Angeles Rams where he led the league in yards per carry. He was born and raised in Lincoln Heights and also played football for UCLA.
Elgin Baylor. Basketball. Baylor played for the Lakers in Minneapolis (drafted in 1958 as top pick) and made the transition to Los Angeles with the team in 1960 where he often led in points per game. He also served as a Clippers vice president for 22 years. His plaque is often covered by heat lamps in front of the Rodeo Grill.
Glenn Davis. Football. Known as Mr. Outside, Davis played as a halfback for the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 and 1951. He was born in Claremont.
Joe Louis. Boxing. One of the best-known heavyweight boxers of all time. During his 17-year career, he reigned as the heavyweight champion from 1937 through 1949 and was a three-time golden gloves winner.
Armando Muñíz 1968. Boxing. A welterweight fighter who boxed throughout Southern California, most often at the now defunct Olympic Auditorium. He was on the 1968 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team.
Babe Ruth. Baseball. Arguably the most famous baseball player of all time, Ruth played baseball for 22 seasons, most of that for the New York Yankees. No connection to Los Angeles of California.
Avenue of the Athletes: South Side of Sunset
Starting at Mohawk and walking east.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Basketball. He played for 20 seasons in the NBA, 15 of those as a center for the Los Angeles Lakers. he’s considered one of the best basketball players of all time. Abdul-Jabbar also served as an assistant coach for the Lakers for six years.
Barbara Ferrell 1968. Track and field (sprinting). Ferrell earned a gold and silver medal in the 1968 Olympics. She went on to a career coaching track for USC.
Bill Shoemaker. Horse racing. For 29 years, no jockey won more races than The Shoe, who retired with 8,833 career wins (he toppled previous record holder Johnny Longden) out of 40,350 races. He also earned the George Woolf Memorial Award in 1951. In his youth, he lived in El Monte.
Patricia McCormick 1952. Diving. She won four Olympic gold medals, two in 1952 and two in 1956. She was born in Seal Beach and attended school in Long Beach.
Jerry Barber. Golf. Winner of seven PGA tours, including the PGA Champion in 1961, Barber started golfing professionally in 1948 and played up until his death in 1994.
Johnny Longden. Horse racing. With 6,033 career wins, Longden was the winningest jockey until Bill Shoemaker topped his record in 1970. He won the George Woolf Memorial Award in 1952 and raced his last race at Santa Anita in 1966.
Jesse Owens. Track and field (sprinting and long jump). The famous American sprinter who stole the show at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where he won four gold medals. No connection to Los Angeles or California.
Roy Campanella. Baseball. Played as a catcher the (Brooklyn) Dodgers from 1948 through 1957. One of the best catchers in baseball history, he wore number 39 for the Dodgers and was named National League MVP three times.
Ralph Guldahl. Golf. A top golfer, earning 16 PGA wins (including the U.S. Open and Masters) from 1936 through 1940. He was the resident golf pro at a Tarzana Country Club where the tutored Howard Hughes.
L. Andrew Castle. Photography. As detailed above, the man with the vision to place all these plaques along Sunset Boulevard. Former team photographer for the Dodgers.
Sandy Koufax. Baseball. Played for the Dodgers as a pitcher for 12 seasons starting in 1955. He made the transition with the team when they moved to Los Angeles. The list of his pitching accomplishments is quite long, including four World Series wins. he wore number 32 for the Dodgers.
Bob Seagren 1968. Track and field (pole vault). A renowned pole vaulter who kept raising the bar with subsequent world record vaults, culminating in 5.63 meters in 1973. He won two Olympic medals — a gold in 1968 and a silver in 1972. He was born in Pomona and is a graduate of USC.
Jack Kramer. Tennis. A No. 1 tennis player in 1946 and 1947. Inspired to start playing tennis by watching Ellsworth Vines. As a youth he lived in San Bernardino.
Parry O’Brien. Track and field (shot put). He’s best known for his innovation in putting the shot, using spin to generate power. It’s employed by most putters today. He won Olympic gold in 1952 and 1956 and a silver in 1960. He was born in Santa Monica and played football for USC.
Frank Lubin 1936. Basketball. Lubin was born in Los Angeles and played basketball as a center at UCLA for four years starting in 1928. He won a gold medal with the U.S. basketball team in the 1936 Olympics, the first time basketball was played at the Olympics.
Rafer Johnson. Track and field (decathlon). Johnson was a natural athlete who attended UCAL where was known as a serious contender in the decathlon. He won Olympic silver in 1956 and earned a gold medal 1960, just beating out fellow UCLA student C.K. Yang.
Wyomia Tyus 1964-1968. Track and field (sprinting). The first Olympic athlete to retain the Olympic 100-meter title across two subsequent Olympic games. She won a silver medal and gold medal in 1964 followed by two more gold medals in 1968. After she retired from competition, she became the track coach at Beverly Hills High.
Avenue of the Athletes
- East End: Sunset Blvd at McDuff Street
- West End: Sunset Blvd at Mohawk Street
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