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Derek Shearer

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Bye-Bye LAX, Hello LIZ: Honoring Elizabeth Taylor and Rebranding Los Angeles Airport

Posted: 02/ 1/2012 4:46 pm

As the race for the next Mayor of Los Angeles begins to heat up, a vital issue of public policy has gone unaddressed -- the uninspiring name of our hometown airport, currently known as LAX.

The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners has been sending residents a fancy brochure titled "LAnext," which touts terminal renovations, green technology improvements and upgrading of food and baggage facilities. This is all to the good, but we Angelenos are still stuck with a boring name for the major airport in one of the world's great global cities. Home to the world's entertainment industry -- represented to the world by the iconic Hollywood sign -- Los Angeles deserves something better and more appropriate to our heritage and our future than the initials LAX.

New York has JFK, an airport named after a president, and so does Washington, D.C., with Reagan National. D.C. even has Dulles, named after a former diplomat. All are appropriate and make definitive statements to world travelers. Paris has Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG), named after a national hero and a president of France -- and Liverpool renamed its airport after local working class hero John Lennon. It's time that Los Angeles follow the lead set by our sister cities in Southern California. After all, Burbank named its airport after Bob Hope, and the main airport in Orange County is named after John Wayne.

LA should step up to the global marketing plate and rename our airport after Elizabeth Taylor, one of the great movie actresses of modern times. LAX should become LIZ.

Over breakfast recently with my wife Sue Toigo (daughter of actor parents) and visiting marketing consultant Martin Walker of A.T. Kearney, we briefly considered other alternatives such as Marilyn Monroe. While a beautiful and famous, yet troubled, woman, Marilyn doesn't have the stature of Elizabeth Taylor.

"Liz Taylor was the epitome of global glamour, " says Martin Walker, "and at the same time , a hard working, devoted professional. She embodied that magical place where myth and reality intersect, and that is the branding that LA needs for the 21st Century."

As a new book, The Accidental Feminist, by LA-based author M.G Lord makes clear, Elizabeth Taylor "raised our consciousness... " She started her career playing a young horsewoman in National Velvet and went on to become Cleopatra in the eyes of movie-goers around the world. She was strong enough to handle five husbands, including Richard Burton (whom she married twice). She worked tirelessly to raise funds to combat AIDS, and she was a strong supporter of gay rights. She displayed in life much that those coming to LA aspire to be -- beautiful, talented, successful, socially conscious and politically relevant -- and she was never boring.

It would also be an important statement to name LA's airport after a woman. We could not find a major city airport in the U.S. named after a female -- and there are only a few such in the world. These exceptions include Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi and Benazir Bhutto Airport in Islamabad, both named after slain prime ministers. The airport in Amman is named after Queen Alia, third wife of former Jordanian King Hussein.

As UCSD professor Steve Erie, author of the classic Globalizing LA told us, "The LA airport needs rebranding. While LAX lacks, LIZ clearly sizzles. The opportunity should be seized."

I'm a native Angeleno, son of journalist parents who chronicled Hollywood's golden era. Like many of my friends, I understand and value the cultural heritage which Elizabeth Taylor personifies. My wife and I are putting Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Austin Beutner, Jan Perry and other mayoral candidates on notice that we won't support any candidate who does not endorse renaming LAX in honor of Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, we hope that it won't even be a contentious issue in the mayor's race. The current LA airport commission (a majority of whom have been appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) could get the ball rolling by petitioning the FAA to change the name from LAX to LIZ. The FAA has allowed changes in the past, such as Idlewild Airport which became JFK. All of the candidates could signal their support, as could the current mayor. The cost of new signage would be easily offset by the millions of dollars in free world wide publicity.

Imagine how cool it would be to tell your visitors that you will be picking them up at LIZ.