Pacoima encompasses Lake View Terrace, Hansen Heights, Hansen Hills, Arleta and the City of Pacoima. The name “Pacoima” means “the entrance” in the old Tataviam language. The Tataviam’s were Indian settlers in this land in about 450 AD and are part of the Shoshone Nation. No doubt why they wanted to locate here. The word ‘Tataviam’ means “People facing the sun”. They built their homes on south-facing slopes and they were known to take in the sun while foraging.
The Tataviam hunted deer, rabbits, quail, squirrels, birds, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers and caterpillars and foraged for acorns, yucca, juniper berries and buckwheat. They didn’t domesticate any animals, even horses, preferring to make their way on foot. They settled close to rivers and so were particularly fond of the Pacoima region with both the Big and Little Tujunga creeks coming into the region and sometimes with quite some vigor.
Their typical home was called a Ki’j. This was a dome-shaped framework of willow in a circle between 12 to 20 feet in diameter. The poles were bent in at the top to form a dome, then smaller saplings or branches were tied across to secure the outside, and cattails were woven into the frame. A hole in the top was covered with a hide when it rained but was perfect for their ﬁre pit in the center. The larger villages had cemeteries, granaries, work areas and saunas, called Sehé’, used for cleansing and relaxation.
In the seventeen hundreds the Spanish (Cortez) invaded and conquered Mexico, claiming all land owned by Mexico and the unclaimed land to the North; for Spain. Not much happened until Spanish missionaries arrived to form ‘missions’, in the name of salvaging heathens and helping with development of their land. The missionaries baptized the Tataviam to “neophytes” and provided food and shelter in exchange for their labor in the fields, crafts, buildings and roads.
Alliklik was able to escape the mission with his bride, Piru. They fled to an area elevated, so as to escape ranchers and not be taken for horse or cow thieves. This area was just next to the running waters of the Little Tujunga wash and he called it “Rabbit Hills”, now known as Hansen Hills. Alliklik was pensive this morning while sunning on the South side of Rabbit Hills with his love, Piru. Taking a deep breath to help him break away from the hypnotism of the warm sun, Alliklik turned to Piru and said. “We must move up Little Tujunga to the springs today. No-one will capture us then and force us to put soap all over our bodies again.” With that, it was final; they both moved north along Little Tujunga.
By 1804, nearly 1,000 Tataviam lived at San Fernando Mission planting crops, raising cattle and producing hides, leather goods, adobe bricks, candles, soap, and cloth. Just a few of them escaped. Those who did soon made their way to Rabbit Hills (so easy to find; a single mound from a distance midst a wide range of deeply crevices, mud and creeks, providing many places to hide – with large Willows on the rolling hills and pines). They quickly picked up on and followed the trail of Alliklik and his bride to join them in what later became known as Indian Springs. Alliklik and Piru made a little army of free Tataviam there and were quite happy.
During the period of Spanish rule life was rather feudal. There were large pieces of land throughout the region called ranchos, used for ranging cattle. The central missions housed much of the domestic labor, when not sleeping outdoors on the range. By 1826 there were 58,000 longhorn cattle, horses and ponies in San Fernando Valley. Few paid any attention to Alliklik or his tribe in Indian Springs or of Sespe in Rabbit Hills, part of what was now called Rancho Tujunga.
When Alliklik came home with his deer or rabbit each day, he helped Piru with the earth oven (their constantly burning bed of rocks, coals and cinders, into which most ‘catches’ were buried several hours before their evening feast). Ten families became a hundred families but all used the same earth oven. In time they went from sharing one small Sehe’ to building an elaborate network of clay bathing holes shared by many dozens. He traveled often to Rabbit Hills, where he could scout all of the changes and pick up any Tataviam who wanted more privacy from the mad growth of the white man in the valley. He brought his son there, Sespe, who was eager to continue to scout for the future opportunity to return to these hills.
Finally Mexico succeeded in gaining independence from Spain (1822), and freed the Indians. This forced the missions to eventually have to close, as without the force of free labor, the land began to get tall with weeds or dried out before harvest. This process took its time.
“The new leader in the Rancho is saying that all of our brothers should set free!” Sespe said to Alliklik, in a whisper. “If we go back to Rabbit Hills now, they may give it to us”, he gently offered, not wanting to cause any rift with his father. Many Tataviam forgot their ancestry and remained purposeless in this new arrangement of “being free”, but Sespe had not been enslaved and had big ideas. Alliklik just shook his head in disbelief that his very son believed of this. Alas, he thought, Sespe has never known of the strife of being told that one will have eternal bliss only to later find out that sunning is a “sin called “sloth” and one must use soap every day or these “savior’s” had whips. Alliklik made a point to believe the opposite of what was rumored by such men to be true.
Sespe went off to start a new tribe on Rabbit Hills, saddened that his dear parents would not come.
A few years later, huge rains caused great floods near Rabbit Hills. Sespe decided to go back to the springs, to see if he could convince his parents now to return to their roots in Rabbit Hills. Many of their tribe had been killed with the flooding and most of their Ki’js had washed away. Sespe found them cold and without Ki’j.
It didn’t take long to convince Alliklik and Piru along with many of the displaced others to return with him to Rabbit Hills. Don Pico who had become a friend, had promised Sespe that these hills were for his family after the Indians had been freed from the bonds of the missions. After the arrival of Alliklik and Peru, they had a hundred families. Now that they were no longer fugitives in the eyes of the great Spirits of the priests at the Mission they gathered openly around the large basin they created on Rabbit Hills, again out in the open South sunny side.
It wasn’t infrequent that a traveler would come to their feast with news or wanting to exchange for some of their feast. Their camp was a reminder to many; of the way it once was.
The discovery of gold in the San Gabriel Mountains in 1842 brought European, Latin American and Chinese immigrants to area, increasing the valley’s diversity. By this time Alliklik and Piru had gotten very old and weary, but their children and grand children and brothers were bright with families of their own, many living now in Rabbit Hills.
In the Sehe’ Sespe and his wife Tahevya were their scouts and would tell of people building homes of stones. This was an amazing thought to Alliklik and Piru who couldn’t imagine how one could keep rocks from falling on your head in a home with stone above it. The Tataviam had long worked to adapt to the ever-changing environment, no longer divorced from domesticated animals or stored goods. Sespe never lost his spirit of reaching out to try to turn this motion to his advantage, eager to participate.
On January 11, 1847, the US claimed victory over Mexico and the Southern California Gold Rush began. This brought many changes to the valley that they held the entrance key to. Prospectors and eventual settlers came to the region, looking for fortune. Because of the difficulty across the great wash ravines, most travelers turned back before passing in to the great valley.
Cattle ranching was brought to a sudden end with the drought of 1863. Most of the cattle and sheep in the region had died of dehydration. Sespe’s entire tribe often traveled up Little Tujunga to catch the water before it joined with the mud below. They had tricked the creek to pour its water down their closest channel by hauling huge rocks to block flow to the other channels and had many hidden urns tilted under drips that soon became filled with fresh water to drink. With this, they were able to outlast many other tribes, who fled much sooner to more coastal regions.
In 1874, Charles Maclay a California Senator (privy to news that the Governor promised to help the railroad push its way through the wash area of Pacoima and into the valley). Maclay quickly purchased over 56,000 acres of land (the northern half of the valley) for about $2.00 an acre.
Initially it was used to grow wheat. This caused little disruption of Sespe’s tribe, as his region of hills was not a target for wheat farming, though there were constant hints that their welcome would soon end. Sespe always tried to contribute more to invite cooperation. They did this by teaching their young to dance, sing, create dream weavers, and polish stone and such memorabilia.
Homer Hansen came visiting Southern California for a year when he was just 19, in 1891. He visited Rabbit Hills and was introduced to Tahevya and Sespe, now among the elders with their tribe of a hundred families. They sat and smoked a long pipe and talked about Alliklik’s uncompromising devotion to keeping his people free but productive in this confusing land of the White Man. Homer was enthralled with their simple clarity and eager willing spirits. When Homer saw their daughter, Akavevya, dance at the large fire they had in their gathering arena, he fell at once in love, forgetting all protocol and promptly went into a fit of coughing while passing the pipe. This young man’s acuity and genuine desire to be part of their culture and understand it humored Sespe, who told him of their special springs in the hills and invited him to scout with him.
Homer didn’t know if he was more excited about this or the amazingly beautiful and cheerful young woman dancing like the wind with her long dark brown silky hair whisking obediently behind her. Sespe chuckled and told him that he would introduce them and if he wanted Akavevya could be his scout instead!
As it turned out Sespe and his whole family accompanied Homer on his first scout of the vast territory of the Big and Little Tujunga. Alas many months later he had to return to Ohio, where he would then go to school in Chicago for four long years, come fall.
Akavevya and Homer once went to the very top of the hill, where she told him about the secret of this special place. From it, one could see the entire valley and for them, more importantly, could see the entire big and little Tujunga, where their families all lived. If in need, one could build a fire in this one spot, draped by a leather curtain and through signals communicate far and wide to all of the Tataviam. Her speech was clear and slow and so melodic, it entranced Homer to the end of his life. He would never forget Rabbit hill or the tales he heard of the simple life, Indian springs or… Akavevya. His hope was to one day be able to preserve a place where the Tataviam could continue their culture, forever if they could survive the cruel months that he saw around the corner for them.
He became a graduate of medicine and surgery in 1895 and became a distinguished surgeon and physician. He even spent a year in 1900 with Dr. Marcus Landau in Berlin, who was at that point a renowned author and statesman.
In 1903 Dr. Homer A. Hansen moved to the San Fernando Valley after being diagnosed with acute inflammatory rheumatism. Well to do at that point, a Mason and member of the Athletic Club and other such organizations of society, he formed the Big Tujunga Company and with his brother (Charles). They bought 14 miles of land in the Big and Little Tujunga regions (from Rabbit Hills all the way up to Indian Springs and over to Big Tujunga’s flats).
His doctor had given him just a year to live. He went to the top of Rabbit Hills where he found that secret spot and try though he might, he did not know how to recreate the secret code he heard of so long ago. Indeed, life so long ago seemed rather ancient. The railroad had come through the southern edge at the base of Rabbit Hills, not far from where the great ring had been where he first saw Akavevya dance. He spent a full year roaming the entire Tujunga region, hiking and camping and planning out his strategies. With the warm sun, enormous space and peaceful mountain atmosphere of the foothills) he recovered fully. He never developed the Rabbit Hills region, though he lived in the region known as Hansen Heights (which ran from the hills on the west and across what later became the Hansen Dam and over to what is now known as Shadow Hills). By this time all signs of Akavevya were long gone.
After he fully recovered, Dr. Hansen and his company ventured out into several enterprises, including energy, railroad, water management and he built the world famous Hansen Lodge in Big Tujunga Canyon. He eventually settled down and got married to Marie Adeline Huber, going on to have a family of his own, two boys, two girls and eventually 10 grand children. He was always thoughtful of the native Indians and could be counted on to continue in his explorations. He many trips to Indian Springs and finding no Indians there, helped plan his visitors’ retreats (adding more content to his stories of the region).
This lodge was the talk of the elite in the 1920’s visited by the elite, who came to relax and have a pleasant entry into another world, assisted by the many stories told by Dr. Hansen of his early times in the region. But in 1926 it was destroyed by flood.
His company was in a perfect position to (with some help) put a dam in place to contain the water and release it when desirable, to help prevent such a devastation from recurring. They used the dam to help generate electricity as well and formed a utility that serviced the little communities on the other side of the canyon.
In ’31 he rebuilt the lodge once the dam was in place but due to severe floods in ‘36 it was again destroyed, completely this time. Then in March of 1938, after several days of rain filled Big Tujunga dam to capacity, the gates had to be opened to save the dam. A torrent of water poured through the canyon and across the valley floor, killing ninety-six people.
This was a sad day for Hansen. After this much of his land in Hansen Hills region was donated to the county to assist with a project to create a dry dam that would serve to hold waters, should ever again the higher dam break. This became Hansen Dam. He also provided a huge recreation area and preserve, to contribute back to the community including any natives who still lived in the wash, as he was determined that the future would not be allowed to erase the beauty that this place contained.
It was completed in 1940, 1,500-acres were devoted to picnic areas and a recreational lake that was built for the community.
With storm flows contained, development of the valley could grow unabated, and grow it really did!
During World War II, a young local bathing beauty by the name of Norma Jean (a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe) and her future first husband frequented the area. At that time Marilyn was a student at nearby Van Nuys High School. This area became one of the 10 most popular recreational areas in the country by the early 1950s
Hansen Dam Recreational Area today has 1,437 acres of land, leased by the City from the U.S. Government and boasts of swimming; boating; sailing; canoeing & fishing on the Lake; There is an Outdoor Amphitheater; An amazing Golf Course (9 holes); a Softball Field; Children’s Play Areas; Picnic Areas. In addition to the aquatic center, there is a recreational center, horse trails, bike and walking trails throughout the park. Walking around the entire golf course can make for a very pleasant visit with nature. The fishing lake is even stocked with fish and used by occasional swimmers. This 40-acre water recreation facility is located on the northwest side of Hansen Dam Recreation Area and just across the street from the corner of Glenoaks Ave and Osborne Street at Hansen Hills. Currently, site preparation has begun for an 8,800 SF skate park as well. Once again, it is “all the rage”.
The 7th Annual Hansen Dam Triathlon just occurred at the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center. Events such as this have launched a whole new appreciation of the amazing resource we have in this recreational center.
Dr. Homer Hansen died in 1960, but his spirit lived alongside of his namesake in the creation of this outstanding community in the hills we believe inspired him. The name of the community was Hansen Hills (but still rabbit hills to some). Most of these homes are family size, 1,600-3,500 square feet and most of these lots are 7,000-14,000 sf. It is tucked away behind the Whiteman airport (hidden on the North side of the hill).
Whiteman Airport was created by Marvin E Whiteman post WWII, as a private business airport for small planes. He began this back in the 50’s. Currently it’s home to Squadron 35 of the Civil Air Patrol. It specializes in Charter flights with upscale businessmen VIP’s and Celebrities.
Dr. Hansen never forgot the Tataviam. He died in 1960 on his 35,000 acre Cache Creek Park Ranch in Kern County, five miles west of Mojave, CA. Here he welcomed any that wanted to forage or sun. He still ventured out occasionally to see if perhaps the Tataviam or their brothers might have forage out his way. If it were not for his generous pioneering spirit, the Big Tujunga dam and Hansen Dam may never have been developed and we might still be balked by the deep ravines created by the wash throughout the entire expanse North to South of the Valley at its entrance.
We are very thankful to be here at this entrance to the Valley!
Merry Christmas to all our new neighbors!