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One Man's Crusade to Take a Peak Into History

Geography: La Crescenta resident wants to name a local mountaintop after the region's original inhabitants.

August 13, 2001|CAROL CHAMBERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On warm summer afternoons as teenagers, Richard Toyon and his friends would climb the mountains above Glendale to a peak dotted with radio antennas and listen to rock 'n' roll played through speakers at the base of the towers.

Over the years, Toyon became bothered that the peak did not have an official name. So last year, the 43-year-old film production designer embarked on a crusade to name the 2,600-foot mountaintop, which he can see from his bedroom window in La Crescenta.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names will consider his application next month to name the site Tongva Peak in recognition of an indigenous tribe, also known as the Gabrielinos, that helped build the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Los Angeles missions.

His bid is supported by the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribal Council, the city of Glendale and the county of Los Angeles.

"I wanted to see the peak named after the people who have been here for 10,000 years," said Toyon, a local history buff.

The Tongva lived in villages on vast tribal lands that stretched from Orange County to Ventura County and from Riverside County to the Pacific Ocean, including the Channel Islands. The skilled seafarers and hunters were knowledgeable and astute stewards of their land and its resources, according to the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribal Council based in San Gabriel.

Their culture began to crumble in the late 1700s when the Spaniards forced them to build the missions and farm the surrounding land for the mission padres. The priests established the road from Mission San Gabriel to the San Fernando Mission along a path the Tongva had used for thousands of years. Portions still exist as La Crescenta Avenue in La Crescenta, Honolulu Avenue in Montrose and La Tuna Canyon Road in Tujunga, Toyon said.

The mission road crossed an arroyo near what is now Orange Grove Boulevard and Colorado Avenue and continued north along the Verdugo Mountains.

The Verdugo range stretches about 10 miles across the eastern San Fernando Valley from La Tuna Canyon to Glendale. Its trails are a magnet for mountain bikers and hikers, who say that although the mountains are surrounded by a population of millions, recreation seekers can often ride or hike for hours without seeing anyone.

Home to mountain lions, deer and bobcats, the Verdugos remain largely unspoiled by development, much as they were when the Tongva built encampments in the foothills.

When the mission system collapsed in the 1840s, the Tongva culture and language all but disappeared. During the last three decades, however, Tongva descendants have been working to gain federal recognition as members of a Native American tribe, which would make them eligible for health benefits, housing assistance, scholarships and gaming rights.

About 350 Tongva descendants live in the Los Angeles basin today, said Dee Roybal, the tribal council's cultural affairs officer.

Unofficially, the peak that is the focus of Toyon's efforts has had several monikers over the years--Star Peak, Flat Top and Mount Tom among them.

Before the Board of Geographic Names will approve a new designation for the peak, it must find that local people use and accept the name, said Roger Payne, the agency's executive secretary. Because the name Tongva Peak is supported by the city, county and tribe, it appears to be a slam dunk, he said.

"There is no such thing as an open-and-shut case," Payne said. "But if there were, this is it. So far there is no known opposition."

Although Tongva Peak may not exactly roll off one's tongue, it is a name Toyon hopes will endure.

"It's a way to keep local history alive," said Toyon, who is half Native American of the Acjachemem/Juaneno tribe in Orange County. "They'll have a better understanding of what the local history is--that it began many thousands of years before the Europeans came."

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