Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The View from the Cross

The Cross of San Ysidro, Mt. McGroarty, Tujunga
"San Ysidro, Patron Saint of Little Homes, was not a saint of the Catholic Church, according to John McGroarty . . . He was a Spanish peasant, and his name, McGroarty said, indicates he was probably a Jew. . . Thus the dedication of this monument was sponsored by an organization of laymen, held around a cross that was raised in honor of a “saint” who probably was a Jew, and blessed by a Catholic priest during ceremonies involving all Protestant organizations in the Valley.... – Wallace Morgan – for The Record-Ledger

"In selling the idea of it, McGroarty, the Scribe and

Booster Bard, wove the fabled life of San Ysidro – in which

the saint had ceased his work to help the grandam find her goat,

whereupon (in his absence) an angel took those labors up.

A parable in which self-interest was replaced by the

spirit of benevolence – For in the hard life of farming

dry and rocky soil, only with each others help could one survive

"With the convert’s passion, and the spirit of a man reborn

(having thrown the shackles of nocturnal asthma in the sweet

and solemn-breathing air of the Verdugos) the Scribe sold

the broken colony his ecumenical hopes – so much so

they built his cross in weeks, and pledged to find the funds to light it.

"Perhaps by raising it, a monument with manifest ideals,

a people perpetuate such standards. Perhaps not. But

consider this: On the antipodal Verdugos in

J"uly of ‘24, the Times reported on quite different

pageantry beneath a cross – rather, several – burning as

eight hundred on the Glendale hills joined that city’s Ku Klux Klan.

Or this: that when ‘30s Tujunga Jewry formed their Temple

Shomrei Emunah, Guardians of the Faith, the Women’s Club gave

them a home, five years, while they built. This while La Crescenta’s

chapter of the Bund held pro-Nazi rallies at their parks, and

Pasadena practiced covenants excluding Jews and papists.

"Four months, and they had lit the cross – and in a time when night pulled

a drape of perfect darkness on the hills, the Cross was more than

cross, but spoke of noble-minded roots, what they valued in others

and hoped for from themselves. And perhaps in those black nights, its light

was consolation for their failed Utopian dream, broken

by the harshness of life in a place known as the Rock."
 – Wallace Morgan – for The Record-Ledger

To all of us who live in this beloved valley, who, cut off from the rest of our far-flung City, must rely on each other for safety and even for continued health as we seek to safeguard the historic quality of the air that sustains us* -- I wish us the peace that surpasseth understanding. The founders of this community, the Little Lands Colony, a socialist-utopian agricultural colony, relied on the good will of others to an extent we rarely see today. But I believe, with them for inspiration, that we can live in tolerance of each other, and protect this beautiful land, as those who came before us did: our historical society, founded by the community in the mid-50s, who told the City they would not allow the City's planned destruction of Bolton Hall -- now a treasured landmark honored as a National Landmark, State Point of Historic Interest and City Historic Monument -- and in so doing created Los Angeles' Historic Preservation ordinance, which now protects over 1,000 cultural or historic landmarks; community activists in the '80s and '90s who demanded that the City stop sending the urban blight of auto wrecking yards to our town, and insisted that our hills and mountains be off limits to developers, along the way creating the Scenic Corridor and Foothill Blvd. Specific Plans; and the community activists of this 21st century who for four years said no to the City and one of the most devious, conniving and well-funded of America's commercial giants, and in beating Home Depot lent encouragement to communities all over the nation who have gone on to successfully fight off the incursion of big box stores and their slash-and-burn economic models.

We face a new threat today. The City has fast-tracked a publicly funded 5-floor monster of a Housing Project on Samoa Avenue at Valmont, an area already suffering from its occupation by the notorious Toonerville gang (according to the Los Angeles Times, Daily News and the LAPD). According to the LAPD's website (, one Toonerville Tujunga banger is among their top ten most wanted gang members, Top Ten, first wanted for the murder of a Tujungan on Valmont, two blocks from the proposed Projects. And the City's idea of how to help us rid ourselves of the scourge of gang violence and crime is to obliterate more of our one-storey historic community and stuff 64-units, all but three of them three- to four-bedrooms, onto a twenty-foot wide street on land once occupied by two two-bedroom 900 square-foot houses. High density housing projects have been denounced by all other western nations as an absolute failure in providing decent affordable housing, serving instead to promote crime, pollution, asthma and a perpetuation of hopelessness. Another boondoggle for billionaire developers and a stab at the hopes of low- to moderate-income asthmatics with the hope of being able to breathe in a home of their own.

Thank you for all you do to make this place so wonderful.

Kathleen Travers

Kathleen, a former educator, is a 4th-generation Angeleno. An art historian who specializes in historic restoration, she lives in a 1924 bungalow farmhouse in Sunland that she restored. She reads her poetry with the Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga, who present their readings on the fourth Sunday of each month, 4:30 p.m., at Bolton Hall Museum, 11000 Commerce Avenue.

* Sunland-Tujunga was a haven for those with asthma from its inception. Once known as one of two places in the world with the perfect air quality for healing respiratory ailments (the other in the Nile River Delta, Egypt), asthmatics moved here from all over the world to be healed, and stayed. Even now, surveys reveal that half of all households in our community house an asthmatic, many of them maintained by our life-giving air alone, without medication. But new construction with the release of toxins from teardowns, from the disturbed soil and from the highly toxic building materials now used, along with increased vehicle traffic, threaten to destroy the fragile balance of our perfect air, cleaned by our surrounding hillsides, our native trees, the directional orientation of our valley and the wind patterns whipped by the many canyons of our favorite high wind zone.


Duh! said...

Thank You, Kathleen.

I did not come here because of the air, but when I got here I knew the air was wonderful.

My son told me not long before he died, that I had to go to Hawaii, to Yosemite and to Big Tujunga Canyon.

The first was deliberate. The second was required. And the third happened without my realizing it. I was attracted here like a magnet.

Brock Ba'jer said...

Arspoetica, Do you know the year the image was taken and when the quote from The Record Ledger was originally written? When was The Cross installed? (The Record Ledger was my first employer out of high school BTW.)

Thank you for a stunning article; when is your next one?!

arspoetica said...

The cross was installed immediately before Easter 1923. I can't recall the date on the Record-Ledger article, but it was some time after the installation -- Wallace Morgan, the paper's editor for the bulk of its approx. 50-year history, did retrospective articles evaluating important local traditions, locations and residents; this was one of those articles. I'll be happy to track down the exact date, however, and let you know soon. The photo is from 1926.

nobodyslaw said...

We all enjoy some modicum of serenity thanks to our Wild and Scenic Green Verdugo Mountains. Along with the Angeles National Forest, (and the Wilderness inhabiting the Beautiful San Gabriel Mtns.) Nature surrounds us, and taken with the Scenic Big Tujunga Wash create the boundries and ambiance that define our town, Sunland Tujunga California, City of Los Angeles. The Green Verdugo Hills, for all of us, it will be a shame to see the buildout of sprawl creep up and over them, a psycological blow. For Nature itself, our wild neighbors, it will be fatal. I say they should stay. Wild creatures are our favorite neighbors! I don't believe we need to remove and replace the wild native critters! Why purchase landscape sod plants, (and why buy pet canines and felines and avians and well u get it), surrogate animal companions and grass yards & ficus, get with Nature, get seed nearby and appreciate the ways Nature knows. Without using local seed and plants, we miss out on the awesome genetics with wich our locally evolved native plant populations are endowed, we are gardening at a loss. Only keeping and spreading local wild native plants (together with all the companions inherent / alive here wild, known as "habitat associations" and I whom call native "plant" communities), should be practiced and promoted in our town.
In "Scenic" areas we need to recognize the "Wild" communities live there, and have great value here in Sunland Tujunga as such. As genetic repositories (and seed supply) for Sunland Tujunga landscaping and gardeners these Hills are an Agriculturally significant resource. To the benefit of our air and water quality, resident "Wild Natural Communities" contribute significantly. To our physical and mental wellness for Scenic beauty and as a recreational nature trail)s), our local nature is profound, Nature is whom this community needs, not only what.
Local Naturalist and Native Plant Photographer, Ricky Grubb.

arspoetica said...

Thank you, Ricky!
When I moved to Sunland-Tujunga, I knew I needed a native garden, for what else would work in the shadow of these hills?
But my native garden is only a poor reflection of the glory within the hills themselves, even in the tragic aftermath of the Station Fire, when wild flowers whose seeds are only released by fire hold court amidst the surrounding granite majesty.
And as you have so correctly identified, the greatest enemy of this miraculous natural environment is increased development in this small valley. The denser the development, the more assured a fate where traveling seed lands on concrete, or rooftops, instead of undisturbed soil.
The disturbed soil of development grows weeds and invasive species, death to the glorious California natives.
So much to think about; so much we're at risk of losing, and once lost, never to be regained.