Courtesy of Debi Newton, winter 2020
DON’T TREAD ON ME—At the top, just to the right of center, the dark profile of a woman’s head with chin, mouth, nose and forehead pointing skyward can be seen on Laydface Mountain in Agoura Hills. Her full body drapes down to the left. A flag, barely seen, is planted on her forehead. The flag has been put up and taken down several times as two sides do battle to see who’s king of the mountain.
OLD GLORY–The flag at the Ladyface summit.
Acorn file photo
It began following the great Woolsey fire of 2018.
One by one, American flags started appearing on top of local Santa Monica Mountain peaks. Large flags, planted on proud soil, splashes of red, white and blue propped up against open skies from the Simi Hills to Malibu. People saw the flags as a beacon of hope, and their pride swelled.
Almost 90% of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area burned in the Woolsey fire and, in the aftermath, many residents were eager to show their support for the rebuilding spirit that began when the final flames were extinguished. Out of the ashes came new homes and new lives—with Old Glory planted on high ground and keeping a careful eye out.
There’s never been an exact count of how many flags have been planted on the mountain tops since the fire and how many are still standing.
“I counted 14 flags at one time on peaks,” said Glen Peterson, a local historian whose own house was destroyed by the blaze. Today he lives in a trailer on the same Cornell, Agoura plot where his residence once stood.
“There was one above Peter Strauss Ranch, one at Sugarloaf, one at the top of Kanan. They were everywhere,” Peterson said.
“I saw it as a thing of pride. It was people being inspired, saying we’re going to rebuild.”
Other flags have been seen along the 23 Freeway, in Newbury Park and in Triunfo Canyon.
CONQUEST–A climber stands next to the American flag planted at the summit of Ladyface Mountain in Agoura Hills. Acorn file photo
Today, almost two years after the fire, the flag residents talk about the most is the one frequently seen atop Ladyface Mountain just south of Agoura Hills. The 2,032-foot high ridge of volcanic rock has long been recognized as a gateway to the Santa Monicas, and it remains a topic of lore for thousands of Conejo Valley residents who feel the grand lady watching over them as they go about their daily lives.
“One day while pumping gas at the old Shell station near Dorothy Drive and the 101 freeway, I glanced toward the mountain and lo and behold, the Lady revealed herself,” said Margie Perez of Agoura Hills. “Now I can’t unsee her. On my daily drive home from work in Woodland Hills, as I approach Liberty Canyon, she appears and it makes my day.”
“It’s our most prominent peak and you can see it for miles in any direction,” said Fran Pavley, the city’s first mayor whose leadership helped protect the mountain from a group of developers that once floated plans to build an entertainment park all the way at the summit.
Today the mountain is a popular hiking venue offering stunning views from Calabasas to Newbury Park.
“Everyone who lives in Agoura Hills for a long length of time, it should be on their bucket list to climb,” Pavley said.
The name Ladyface refers to an outline at the top of what appears to be a woman lying on her back with nose, mouth, chin and broad breast looking gracefully to the sky. The lady, some say, is a Chumash, a centuries-old Native American people that settled the region long before the Spanish invaders and American homesteaders came on the scene and took possession of the land for themselves.
There are local residents who feel an American flag planted on top of a Chumash Indian shape is inappropriate and disrespectful. Statues of historical figures ranging from Confederate generals in the South to Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish priest enshrined in the City of Ventura, are being removed from America’s landscape as part of the fallout from Black Lives Matter.
Protectors of the Chumash heritage are telling the Ladyface flag planters: Don’t tread on me.
“I do wonder what is the purpose of the flag being placed there,” Perez said. “If it’s a ‘Gilroy was here’ type of thing, I don’t know if that’s appropriate. Is it a show of dominance? Is it a symbol of conquering? None of those sit well with me and are not in keeping with current values of unity, inclusion, respect for history. It quite likely shows disrespect to the indigenous citizens who lived on or around the mountain in the past and named it.”
Rebecca Arvizu of Agoura Hills is an Apache Indian descendant. Her great-grandmother worked the for U.S. Government in the early 20th century.
“She told stories of how she helped negotiate uprisings on the reservations and was involved in the relocation of Geronimo and others to Florida. She was not proud of being part of this,” Arvizu said.
The appropriation of Ladyface by patriotic flag-wavers upsets her.
“I can’t believe I have so many insensitive neighbors who refuse to acknowledge the brutal and savage treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. government, which is what I am reminded of when I see Ladyface stabbed in the forehead with the U.S. flag,” she said.
“I don’t hold grudges against the U.S. government for any of this. I respect the flag, but I don’t worship it like some of my neighbors.”
Agoura Hills Mayor Illece Buckley Weber also weighed in.
“If the flag being up there causes discomfort to some people, then maybe it’s not the appropriate place.”
Flag up or down?
The actual summit is property that belongs to Gateway Foursquare Church on Agoura Road in Agoura Hills. Much of the mountain is protected open space, and a public trail from Kanan Road leads to the top.
American flags have been seen on Ladyface for more than a decade, and just since last year the flag has been planted, taken down and replanted multiple times in a push-pull struggle between those who wish to pay homage to the Stars and Stripes and those who side with the Native Americans and their cause.
“I am in favor of flying the American flag on top of Ladyface Mountain,” said Agoura Hills resident Jack Gill. “What about the indigenous culture before the Chumash Indians? Would they be offended by the Chumash taking over their land, or the culture before them? You can go down that rabbit hole forever.”
The summit of the mountain is not a Chumash archaeological site, and who’s to say the lady in the outline is even an indigenous person, some ask.
“It’s not an Indian site,” Peterson said. “I don’t think it’s disrespectful.”
SUMMIT FLAG–Hikers reach the top of a local peak in Newbury Park where an American flag is planted. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers
“I come from a military family where my father was a two-star general,” said Jack Gill of Agoura Hills.
“Flying the flag and living in this country was taught to be an honor and a privilege, so argue all you want about what or who is right and wrong in this country, but don’t give up on the flag.”
The debate is as old as the country is wide: Manifest Destiny versus Native American rights. Respect for Old Glory versus the constitutional right to throw her a jaundiced eye.
“Our nation’s flag, or any nation’s flag, for that matter, is a symbol of everything that we stand for as a collective, unified body of individuals who strive to uphold the values upon which our nation was founded,” said Brenden Barth, a resident of Monte Nido mountain community.
“I’m all for Agoura Hills flying our flag as a show of patriotism,” said Perez.
“Just leave the Lady alone.”