Puvungna, a 2,000-year-old site, remains sacred to the native Tongva people of the land. An ancient American Indian village occupied the once 500-acre space that served as the birthplace of Missions Indians’ deity Chinigchinich. And Long Beach State sits on a morsel of that.
Today, Puvungna is relegated to a 22-acre space connected to the university. For regulars parking at G2, the unfinished dirt path and patches of grass might just be another peripheral sight on the route to class.
But onlookers today may find something new blooming on the 22-acre land. Small rows of California coastal flowers are beginning to germinate.
California poppies and desert bluebells now occupy the patch of grass nearest to the G2 lot. These blossoming flowers are the first visions of the university’s reimagining of Puvungna under the Imagine Beach 2030 initiative.
A new Puvungna study was introduced in a January meeting with university officials and the surrounding communities. Initial concerns of community members prefaced any kind of development on the land and who’d be paying for it.
“I think they continue to devalue this national registered site,” said community member Anna Christensen. “They just see it as a vacant lot.”
Concerns of land development stem from previous construction plans in the ‘90s for a strip mall on Puvungna, as documented by LBSU anthropology professor Ronald Loewe’s “Of Sacred Lands and Strip Malls.” According to Loewe, the strip mall dubbed the West Village Center would add restaurants, a child-care center, retail shops and housing for faculty.
This idea was shot down after years of protest, a lawsuit and a strong opposition to development from then-campus president Robert Maxson.
“The decision in the court case didn’t change one thing as far as my plans go … I’d like to see that area remain a green area,” Maxson said in a May 4, 1995 Daily 49er article.
According to President Jane Close Conoley, a newfound interest in development on the land came from a research paper by the American Indian Student Association that outlined ceremonial houses across different campuses.
“We don’t get money to build anything so this would require fundraising,” Conoley said in a March meeting with the Daily 49er. “We decided with that request to look at that land. We had done something on the other side of Beach Drive with the reburial but to look at that land more holistically and say ‘could we make a long term plan for a ceremonial house?’ That land has been plowed and used for lots of different things over the decades.”
Director of American Indian Studies Craig Stone remembers dump trucks as far back as 20 years ago offloading construction debris on the land’s soil. Steel rebar and concrete stuck up from the ground. But in removing the debris, there’s a catch 22. Stone says the land’s soil is often taken to landfills and new earth is put in its place, a process which affects the maintenance and nativity of the sacred land.
The university took this issue head-on.
“What we’re allowing at this point is when they take earth out, keep it at Puvungna there,” Stone said. “They screen it and clean it. We can use that on campus, so we’re actually using the earth from here. It gets used to fill in areas and to flatten out areas, things that might be a hazard.”
To maintain and beautify Puvungna, last March, 100 pounds of native vegetation were seeded to fill in the indigenous sacred land. According to Stone, invasive plant inhabitants were uprooted and killed off to make room for the California coastal plants. Recommendations to plant more flora came from native stakeholders and a draft report from landscape architect Johnpaul Jones, who was the lead consultant on the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of the American Indian.
Although this seems to be the first development of reimagining Puvungna, more details about the study are yet to be discussed, according to university officials. The target date for any possible development on the land is 2020.
“We are still in the very early stages of a process that explores options for the future as informed by an understanding of the region’s history, the meaning that some stakeholders have ascribed to this part of campus, and the needs of our university,” Jeff Cook, chief communications officer for Long Beach State, said in an email.
But that hasn’t stopped Stone’s excitement on what’s to come for Puvungna. He hopes by 2020, the flowering plants on the land will be akin to the touristy super blooms all over Southern California during spring.
“What we hope will happen next year is that you don’t have to drive to Lake Elsinore,” Stone said. “That’ll actually be happening here on the land. That’s a 1978 idea that is now coming to fruition in 2019.”