Exploring the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs with the Venice Design Series


Norine Holguin

4/26/20243 min read

On April 27, the Venice Design Series is hosting a guided tour of the restored Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs, led by Bob Ramirez, president of the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation, with Marco Ramos by his side. This event is the second of a three-part benefit to raise money for Venice Community Housing, which develops affordable housing and provides supportive services across Los Angeles' Westside.

The tour will take place on the campus of University High School, where the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs reside. This landmark site has a rich history, as it's located on the ancient Native American settlement of Kuruvungna Village. Bob Ramirez, along with Linda Lucks and Jay Griffith—the curators behind the Venice Design Series—will guide attendees through the springs, sharing stories of their restoration and cultural significance.

The Legacy of the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs

In 1954, the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs was registered as a state historical landmark, but by 1992, the site had fallen into neglect. That's when Angie Behrns, a graduate of University High and Tongva tribe elder, discovered that the springs were overgrown with trash and debris. Together with her family and other community members, Behrns cleaned up the 2-acre area and founded the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation.

Thanks to Behrns' efforts, along with support from then-State Senator Tom Hayden, the foundation received government funding to preserve the springs. When Behrns stepped down as president in 2015, Ramirez took the lead and continued the work with his team of volunteers and community partnerships.

A Journey of Restoration and Renewal

In 2018, Bob Ramirez and his younger son stumbled upon the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs, which had been locked up and abandoned. The discovery reignited Ramirez's passion for restoring the site, as his ancestors are buried in the San Gabriel Mission. With the help of volunteers and partnerships with organizations like UCLA, Descanso Gardens, Theodore Payne Foundation, and the Natural History Museum, major restoration work began.

The pandemic allowed the restoration team to work on the closed campus and accomplish significant progress. They brought in tractors and bulldozers and formed alliances with community groups, turning a former classroom into the Kuruvungna Springs Cultural Center & Museum. The museum houses artifacts excavated at University High School, maps, and photographs. It's open on the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

What to Expect from the Tour

The guided tour, lasting four hours, includes lunch, entertainment, and various activities. Tickets are priced at $500, with free entry for children. It's a unique opportunity to learn about the cultural heritage of the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs and the ongoing efforts to preserve and restore this special place.

Bob Ramirez explains that the springs release 56,000 gallons of fresh water every day, with some used for irrigation and the rest flowing into storm drains. The water's purity makes it ideal for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and for irrigating the Mesoamerican garden, which features the three sisters—corn, beans, and squash. The garden is also home to 43 species of birds, native Arroyo chubs, frogs, coyotes, raccoons, palms, the largest Eucalyptus saligna in the nation, and the largest Montezuma Cypress in California.

The Future of the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs

Despite the progress, there's still work to be done. Ramirez's sons are involved in the foundation's mission—his older son as site manager and his younger son as a volunteer. They join dozens of community members who show up to weed, dig, and haul dirt each month. The foundation plans to resurface a spring on the upper campus of University High in time for the school's 100-year celebration later this year.

The upcoming tour is a perfect opportunity to see how much effort has gone into preserving this cultural heritage. Don't miss your chance to be part of this incredible journey, and support Venice Community Housing by attending the guided tour of the Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs.


Koslow, Jessica. “Soak in LA History: Venice Design Series Presents Gabrielino-Tongva Sacred Springs Tour.” Argonaut News, 25 Apr. 2024, www.argonautnews.com/community/soak-in-la-history-venice-design-series-presents-gabrielino-tongva-sacred-springs-tour/article_1f6d168e-026d-11ef-b295-379201036481.html.

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