The Tongva, a prosperous, sophisticated Uto-Aztecan speaking people were the original inhabitants of Los Angeles and the Channel Islands. Kuruvungna, which translates as “place where we are in the sun”, was a significant village on what is now the campus of University High School in West Los Angeles. Recent archeological evidence suggests that the area surrounding the natural springs have been occupied for over 8,000 years.
On August 4, 1769, Gaspar de Portola and his expedition camped at Kuruvungna as Spain began to colonize the frontier of ‘Alta California’. Father Crespi noted the friendly and welcoming inhabitants of Kuruvungna, but the civilizing project of Spain led to the forcible relocation of the Tongva and other natives to the Mission San Gabriel, where they became known as the ‘Gabrielino Indians’.
In 1821, the Republic of Mexico gained independence from Spain, and California Mission lands, which were promised to the Native Peoples, were given to well-positioned men of power. In 1828, a grazing permit was granted to Don Francisco Sepulveda, and in 1839, he became owner of Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica, which included Kuruvungna and the Springs.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe was signed after United States invaded and conquered half of Mexico, and California became part of the United States of America. In 1872 the Sepulveda family sold 38,409 acres for $54,000 to Colonel Robert S. Baker; the Rancho land was subdivided and sold, including the village site of Kuruvungna. Later sold to the Santa Monica Land and Water Company, the Springs, named for the tears of Saint Monica, supplied both water and the name of the new city. The area surrounding the Springs was subdivided and became the municipality of Sawtelle before annexation by the City of Los Angeles in 1922.
In 1900, 24 acres, the equivalent of six city blocks, was purchased by Los Angeles Board of Education. During construction of the new high school, it was noted that an “Indian Village had existed there. The site was said to have yielded paints, grinding stones, bone tools and several other artifacts.”
In 1924, the new Harding High School opened and the name was later changed to University High School to associate with UCLA.
In 1931, the 2-acre area surrounding the ‘lower springs’ was fenced and two concrete lined ponds were constructed. During the 1950’s, exotic plants were installed, many which still exist on site. Classrooms, parking lots, tennis courts, a lath house, a greenhouse and rabbit hutches were also built on the site.
In 1976, the first archeological testing was conducted upon discovery of human remains during more construction on the school campus, and in 1980 and again in 1989, archeologists noted that remnants of the village were still strewn throughout the area. In 2013-14, ancestral remains and artifacts were again unearthed and ceremoniously re-interred on the north hill of Kuruvungna. Artifacts, including stone tools and other archeologically significant finds, are stored in the cultural center on the site.
• 1954 Designated California Registered Landmark Site No. 522
• 1954 Named Historical Point of Interest by the “Sons of the American Colonists”
• 1969 Assigned the Archeological Designation CA-LAN-382 by the South Central Coast Information Center.
• 1989 Registered with the Native American Heritage Commission as a Sacred Site.
Various names of the Kuruvungna Springs over the years:
• San Gregorio 1769
• El Berrendo
• Wounded Deer Springs
• San Rogerio
• Las Lagrimas de Santa Monica 1827
• San Vicente Springs 1838
• Junipero Serra Springs
• Walter L. Armacost Botanical Conservatory 1947
• Susan M. Dorsey Memorial Gardens 1947
• Tongva Sacred Springs