Through a Glass, Darkly

Chumash settlements along Sisar Creek, which flows down the present site of Highway 150 towards its confluence with Santa Paula Creek (on their combined way to a co-mingling with the Santa Clara River), represent the historic, eastern Venturan reaches of these coastal bands, loosely agglomerated by shared customs and allied languages. To their east were the Tataviam, a Shoshone speaking people known to the Chumash as Alliklik (the stammerers) for their entirely alien tongue.

Sitting here in the foothills of the Topatopa Mountains, broiling in the late summer sun, looking across to the oak meadowlands of the north facing damp-lands of Sulphur Mountain, we share something with the Tataviam. They were called such by their neighbors the Kitanemuk and we too - as this name implies - are 'people of the south facing slope' (Campbell Grant). Their sunny lands looked onto the Santa Clara River basin and South Mountain.

The Tataviam village of Kamulus, just east of Piru (the modern town founded on another of their villages) and to the south of Highway 126, was established sometime after 450 when these desert people filtered into the Santa Clarita Valley. To the south lies the Santa Clara river and to the west, Piru Creek - both once rich in steelhead trout. The gently sloping land runs along the route of El Camino Real and was quickly appropriated (along with perhaps 200 of its people) by the Franciscans of Mission San Fernando Rey de España and used for growing European crops and grazing Spanish cattle; its future from the very beginning of the nineteenth century, firmly entwined with the colonial power.

A small part of that history was honored in 2001, when Rancho Camulos - the name under which the village became known by the Spanish - was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark. As part of its 'summary of significance', San Buenaventura Research Associates (Judy Triem and Mitch Stone) write,

"The Ygnacio del Valle adobe, winery, fountain, bells, and chapel are...eligible for listing as a National Historic Landmark under Criterion 1 for the exceptional significance they attained as one of three of the nation's most prominent and widely recognized Ramona landmarks, following the publication of Helen Hunt Jackson's book Ramona in 1884. This singular event, combined with the arrival of the Southern Pacific railroad at Camulos in 1887, propelled the rancho into a nationwide acclaim that proved key to the romanticizing of the mission and rancho era of California history"

Left out, in this self-serving ecomium, was the period of roughly 1800 to 1880 when the history of this part of California was roiled by the changing face of its colonial overlord but each remaining constant in their exploitation of the native people. By 1810, almost all of the Kamulus Indians had been missionized and they then experienced the loss of culture, identity, freedom and lives induced by the Franciscan work house environment. Then, under Mexican rule, after the secularization of the Missions in 1834, survivors became Rancho peons when Antonio del Valle, an administrator at Mission San Fernando, received a land grant of almost 50,000 acres of the Indian's former rangelands.

By the early 1880's, when Helen Hunt Jackson undertook her Californian tour of the disposessed native populations, there were fewer than 4,000 Indians. Spurred to document the appalling conditions of these last remaining few, her novel Ramona aimed to galvanize opinion in their support. Upon publication, her book achieved almost instant success but it entirely failed to arouse public concern for the treatment of local Native Americans at a time when both individual anglo-American Californians and the State conspired to complete their extermination. Instead, readers took to heart its sentimentalized view of the Spanish aristocracy and their Mission-style domestic architecture and the Ramona mythology was born.

Ojai is heir to this romanticization of an architecture that in its initial incarnation was the institutional style of the Mission death camps. George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, January 11, 2010, expands the notion of the Californian holocaust by likening Junipero Serra to Adolf Eichmann, the German bureaucrat largely responsible for organizing the Nazi exterminations,

"In California during the 18th Century the Spanish systematised the extermination (of native populations). A Franciscan missionary called Junipero Serra set up a series of “missions”: in reality concentration camps using slave labour. The native people were herded in under force of arms and made to work in the fields on one fifth of the calories fed to African-American slaves in the 19th century. They died from overwork, starvation and disease at astonishing rates, and were continually replaced, wiping out the indigenous populations. Junipero Serra, the Eichmann of California, was beatified by the Vatican in 1988. He now requires one more miracle to be pronounced a saint...."

Locally, Wayne Mellinger, writing in Santa Barbara's Noozhawk 12-14-2011, Remembering the Past — Empire, Subjugation and Collective Amnesia, encourages us to make the link between that City's mandated architectural style and the bloody history of its inspiration: the old Mission and the Presidio,

" (in) downtown Santa Barbara with make-believe Spanish imperial palaces more reminiscent of Granada, Spain, in the Moorish era than the actual town of 17th-century California, we have sanitized history with a pastoral frontier myth in which all horrors and brutalities have been removed".

Mellinger makes the point that an architecture of oppression (or, as he puts it, subjugation) has been adopted as a part of the City's branding. This Spanish Colonial conceit, like the Romance of the Ranchos, can only be sustained with an amnesiac or ill-educated population.

In the last half of the nineteeenth century, the Gold Rush hordes, who turned to random frontier scavenging after the easy pickings of 'placer' gold were exhausted, were enthusiastic participants in the final stage of the Californian Native American genocide. Their mopping up operations were conducted without the benefit of a specific mythology: this stain on the national character was covered by the imperial mantra of 'Winning the West' and more generally absorbed into the 'Cowboys and Indians' saga.

So it is that Mission Revival architecture remains the most awful physical signifier of the local holocaust for those not blinded by over a century of specious mythologizing - the fountains, bells and chapels of the mission style all redolent with the stench of death.

In 1917, a year after the passing of the last Tataviam native speaker, his tribe forever sequestered in the grey pages of the archeological record, work was completed on Ojai's mission-style arcade, post office tower and pergola designed by Mead and Requa and financed by the Chicago glassware magnate Edward Libbey. Libbey sought to retire in a romantic 'Spanish' town and re-made the erstwhile ramshackle, clapboard main street facades in the popular Ramona revival style, foreshadowing similar stylistic guidelines in Santa Barbara, Palos Verdes, San Clemente and Rancho Sante Fe.

Now, as the murk of history clears, we see the town of Ojai unmistakably draped in the architecture of the Californian Holocaust.