La Jolla Shores site designated ‘historic’ for connection to Kumeyaay

In October, the San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB) took a “nuanced” and “complex” vote on whether a parcel of land in La Jolla Shores is historic, due to its proximity to the Mut kula xuy/Mut lah hoy ya site, in which artifacts and remains of native tribes have been found. It voted “yes.”

Because of its placement atop an area of cultural significance to the Kumeyaay native tribes of San Diego, the ground below the Shores house proposed for renovation — but not the house itself — was designated historic. The address was not listed due to its association with a tribal resource.

The HRB’s first designation of a portion of the Mut kula xuy/Mut lah hoy ya site, similar to the most recent designation, was in 1999. Seven other portions of the site were designated between 2003 and 2015.

A cultural resources study concluded, according to a HRB report that: “the property lies within an area of La Jolla with known significant cultural sensitivity associated with the Mut kula xuy/Mut lah hoy ya site, and that the resource is significant under HRB Criterion A. Staff concurs that the property is a significant historical resource under HRB Criterion A.”

The designation applies to the site only and excludes the 1923 two-story residence and all other above-ground structures currently located on the premises.

Criterion A means a property “exemplifies or reflects special elements of the City’s, a community’s or a neighborhood’s historical, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, landscaping or architectural development.”

La Jolla Historical Society preservation chair Diane Kane explained there is a “huge archaeological site” in La Jolla Shores known as the Spindrift Archaeological District.

“The City knows there’s a village (under) The Shores and we’re not sure of the extent because there hasn’t been a thorough archaeology exploration,” Kane told La Jolla Light. “Whenever anyone does construction and grading, they hit stuff that includes ashes from a campfire to pottery to human remains — the finds are literally all over the map.”

The HRB report states of its latest investigation that: “the area is composed of several large hidden areas, temporary camps, pottery and lithic scatters, various shell scatters, and burials found throughout multiple, consecutive layers representative of different cultural phases found in the San Diego region.”

While there is general knowledge of ancient, native artifacts buried underground in La Jolla Shores, Kane said, “where this is, what this is, and the depth is not known.”

The HRB report goes onto state: “The 20-acre knoll, historically known as the Richards Tract and the La Jolla Vista Tract, was originally investigated and recorded by Malcolm Rogers during the late 1920s, and by James Moriarty in the 1960s, and has been associated with occupations by groups from the La Jolla Complex and the Late Prehistoric Kumeyaay.”

As such, any time a property within looks to be redeveloped, demolished or built upon, it must go before the San Diego HRB for review. In this case, the entire property was inspected for artifacts during a cultural resources survey and “cultural materials, including marine shell identified on the surface, indicate the presence of elements of the prehistoric village complex referred to as the Spindrift Archaeological District.”

HRB trustee Cortney Coyle explained: “This project came before us because it calls for the demolition of the current structure and building of a new structure … but staff bifurcated what was above ground to what was below ground. We were tasked with looking at what was in the ground.”

She added there was “quite a bit of discussion” about it at the HRB meeting on Oct. 25. “It’s a nuanced and complex situation,” Coyle said.

The Kumeyaay Perspective

The decision means one more parcel of land can be recorded as part of the broader Kumeyaay map.

Brandon Linton, councilmember for the Mesa Grande Band and vice chair of the Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Committee said the issue is one that spreads across the country with a history spanning thousands of years.

“There is nowhere you can go in San Diego County where you won’t find Kumeyaay artifacts and things like that,” he said. “When San Diego was built, it was built up so quickly — especially La Jolla — and there were no environmental laws, so everything was built on what was there. People could move dirt and build on top of it. Archaeology wasn’t recorded or preserved, so anytime you dig up a street or road near people’s houses in areas like La Jolla, you find village sites that still have dense amount of artifacts and remnants of population that was there before.”

He said while the Kumeyaay and scientific measurements conflict as to how long exactly the Kumeyaay have had a presence in La Jolla, the common thought is at least 10,000 years. He said Kumeyaay people were removed from La Jolla and forced east toward the deserts and down toward Mexico.

“It’s so important for Kumeyaay that these sites are recorded because there people who would like to think we weren’t here before, that we got here just before the Spanish settlers,” Linton said. “We want people to understand what was here before, so we are always trying to preserve and protect our cultural sites — the more that are deemed insignificant, the harder it is for us to prove our existence. It’s a common issue across America. The onus is on us to prove we existed here before the Europeans were here.”

But even with the designation and documentation that sites in La Jolla are historically significant, there is still a battle between the native, the scientific and the archaeological communities.

“Scientists and archaeologists look at it as finding the separation between us and the remains; they say we are not connected to them because they want to study them. We have to reestablish this connection,” Linton said. “It is up to us to prove the remnants are our ancestors. One side will say we don’t have a connection, we say we do, so we need to meet in the middle. It’s important to preserves (these sites) to keep our history alive. There is a constant struggle that resonates throughout the county. La Jolla just happens to have a lot surrounding it. There are a lot of burials in that area.”