The Spanish two-story house on 212 S. El Molino St. was built in 1926, designed by the same architect who built the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. The 51,800-square-foot piece of land has surprisingly been left untouched, largely because the former owner believed the land was once a Native American burial ground.
But developer Arroyo Garden LLC purchased the property in November 2012 and is now building four two-story houses on the land, a development that has upset members of the Alhambra community and the Kizh Nation, a branch of the Gabrielino Native American tribe. Residents argue that building multiple units will add unwanted traffic to their small street. The Kizh Nation fears that the development possibly sits on top of sacred ground.
The Kizh Nation claims that before the federal government developed the lands in the San Gabriel area, the lot on El Molino used to be a burial ground for their ancestors. Several of the 500 members of the group came to the Jan. 13 City Council meeting, including Ernie Salas, the chief of the Kizh Nation, to ask the city to leave the lot undeveloped so as to not disturb any Native American remains that could be buried there.
“If they start any digging there, they will come into human remains or artifacts or whatever they can find. But what do they do? They don’t give them to us, they throw them away or they even get to keep our human remains,” Salas said. “We are caretakers of the cultural people who live there. This is why we’re here today. We want that place left as is.”
Norma Flores, Alhambra resident and member of the Kizh Nation, said that the city needed to stop construction because the land has a direct connection with the San Gabriel Mission, an area many members of the Gabrielino tribe once lived. “We are directly west of the Mission land. That is where the indigenous people lived. That’s one of the reasons why land has not been built upon, is that as recent as 1938 when my home was built, Gabrielenos still lived on the land,” Flores said. “As a Native American, it is my duty to protect the sacred and historic land of my people.”
Other Alhambra residents also opposed the project. John Kraft, a real estate appraiser and resident who lives on El Molino Street, said the large homes would stand out. “This may be an inappropriate use of the land and property,” Kraft said. “It’s a beautiful neighborhood. It’s small. If you build mansions that are 4,000 square feet, two stories, it’s really inappropriate.”
Resident Patricia Reyes said she supported development in the city but not at the expense of other residents, adding that more residential units will add more traffic. “Do you want to add 22 cars on a one-way block?” Reyes asked.
City Council expressed concern for Ernie Salas and the Kizh Nation but decided construction should proceed as long as the developer followed protocol set by the state, which includes hiring a representative from the Kizh Nation or the Native American Heritage Commission to be on the construction site at all times and reporting any remains to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, according to Director of Development Services Tara Schultz.
“I really have sympathy because I know this is a very emotional issue for you, Chief, and for your people,” Councilwoman Barbara Messina said to Salas. “It is a very time-consuming, sensitive process and the developer has assured us that he will take those same steps to assure that if anything is discovered, it will be treated accordingly. I know that’s probably not comforting right now to you.”
If the coroner’s office verifies any found bones belong to members of the Kizh Nation or the Gabrielinos, the remains will be returned to the members of the tribe.
Construction has continued at the property, according to Mark Paulson, a former Alhambra mayor and representative for Arroyo Garden LLC. He declined to comment further on the status of the development.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Kizh Nation was part of the Tongva tribe. We apologize for this error.