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New Seal, Sans Cross, Offers Other Changes

County unveils altered design, which also replaces the goddess Pomona, after ACLU threatens to sue.

September 09, 2004|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

The miniature gold cross that once adorned the Los Angeles County seal has been erased.

So have the oil derricks and the bountiful goddess Pomona, all scrubbed off by county leaders who voted to redesign the emblem after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue over the use of a cross in a government seal.

The new design, unveiled Wednesday and scheduled to be considered by the Board of Supervisors next week, remains a potpourri of symbols of the county's history, landscape and industries. A Spanish galleon, a couple of engineering tools, a tuna and a dairy cow named Pearlette all made the cut, but -- look closely, now -- the new seal's right side depicts a cross-free San Gabriel Mission.

And in the seal's center, Pomona, goddess of fruit trees, has been deposed in favor of a barefoot Native American woman carrying a bowl, meant to represent the area's early inhabitants.

Within moments of the proposed seal's release, critics were picking it apart -- and promising a new battle to restore the cross.

"Let's see, they got rid of the oil wells, so that's politically correct," mused David Hernandez, a Valley Village insurance adjuster who is leading a petition drive to restore the cross by ballot initiative. "But the Native American woman seems kind of subservient, like she's waiting on us. I think it's an insult to Native Americans."

In June, three of five supervisors voted to remove the seal's cross after county lawyers advised that courts probably would find it an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. A week later, more than 700 protesters flooded into the county Hall of Administration to denounce the decision.

Hernandez said demonstrators planned another rally at Tuesday's board meeting.

"This is not going to end," vowed Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a fierce proponent of keeping the cross. "If you look at any drawings of the San Gabriel Mission, it's got a cross on top. I mean, you could put a picture [and the proposed seal] side by side, and go, 'Hello?' "

Others liked the design. At the ACLU, attorney Ben Wizner praised the new images as more inclusive and even "pretty."

"As far as we were concerned, they could have satisfied their legal obligation by simply removing the cross," he said. "But they went a step further and tried to devise a symbol that would really reflect the diversity of the county."

It was that extra step that particularly upset Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose father, the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, designed the seal in 1956. It was drawn by the artist Millard Sheets.

"I'm horrified," she said. "They caved in and removed the cross, but they never had a mandate to redesign the county seal. Millard Sheets and Kenny Hahn are turning over in their graves."

Hahn lamented the loss of Pomona and the oil derricks, a symbol of the oil fields of Signal Hill. Even the mission failed to please. "What is that building?" she demanded. "It looks like a Wal-Mart."

To Antonovich, it looked more like an apartment building or a warehouse. "It emasculates the mission by removing the cross," he said. "Rewriting history has never been right."

Somewhat insulated from the hubbub was the graphic artist assigned to redesign the seal. And redesign it and redesign it.

County artist Loren Clapp said he crafted more than 30 renditions of the seal, which he presented to Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen for approval. Version 27 featured the San Fernando Mission; 29 included a statue of a Spanish priest.

The latest version depicts an angled view of the San Gabriel Mission (so that the cross out front cannot be seen).

"You have to please the client," Clapp said, his modest cubicle strewn with books about 18th-century missions and Native Americans. "That's the nature of the job."

Janssen said the revisions, such as replacing the goddess, were requested by the board. During public debate over the seal, he noted, "We took a good deal of abuse about the fact that we were removing the cross and keeping the pagan goddess."

As for the oil derricks, there simply wasn't room once the mission was added. Janssen suggested that anyone with objections to the design voice them at Tuesday's meeting.

"Maybe," he said dryly, "Pearlette the cow should be gone."

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