Los Angeles

Washna, site of perpetual loss

The Los Angeles neighborhood that is now Playa Vista, zip code 90094, was once part of Washna, a vast Gabrielino-Tongva settlement that disappeared with European colonization by the end of the 19th century. For over 4000 years, the indigenous people of Los Angeles lived on this land, encompassing the Westchester bluffs, the banks of the Ballona Creek and the wetlands stretching out to the Pacific.

When construction on Playa Vista began in 2004, Saa' angna, one of the largest Tongva burial grounds in Southern California was discovered.

Members of the tribe were outraged when the developer continued construction, disturbing what was - and still is - a sacred site to the Tongva people. According to tribal estimates, the skeletal remains of some 400 people were dug up to accommodate a drainage ditch for the new “live/work/play” complex.

In reaction to tribal opposition and the resulting public outcry - and to conform to State law governing the discovery of indigenous burial grounds - the developer eventually paid for a team of archaeologists from the University of California, Los Angeles to remove the artifacts and relocate the bones to another site, out of the way of the planned construction zone. This new graveyard is currently unmarked.

The displaced artifactual remains of Saa'angna are now kept at UCLA's Fowler Museum. And Playa Vista, with its Tuscan-style architecture and coffee shops, remains a site of perpetual loss to the Gabrielino-Tongva people.

When I visit Play Vista, looking for the Tongva memorial, I stop people walking their dogs along the bluffs to ask if they know where it is. If they've heard of the Tongva, they don't know anything about the memorial; if they've heard of the memorial, they don't know where it is. Finally, the security guard at Loyola Marymount University tells me where it is. On campus, between two dorms on the bluff, overlooking Playa Vista below and the Pacific to the West, sits the memorial, an insufficient monument to a monumental loss.