The Origins of the Name Sunland-Tujunga
For most of us heading west along Foothill Boulevard into Sunland-Tujunga, there’s not much thought to where Tujunga is and where Sunland is. There seems to be no distinct border. The origins of the name Sunland and the name Tujunga are well documented, and quite interesting. But as to when and why they became hyphenated – that’s murky at best.
Marlene Hitt still reigns as the last word in Sunland-Tujunga history, so I both emailed her, and picked up her 2002 book “Sunland and Tujunga: From Village To City.” The story is complicated, but I’ll simplify as best I can.
Sunland began in the western portion of the Tujunga Valley in 1885 as the settlement of Monte Vista (during the land boom of the 1880s that also spawned La Crescenta). Land was subdivided, and a largely agricultural community quietly grew, spurred on by the construction in 1887 of the grand Monte Vista Hotel, which attracted wealthy vacationers. At some point just after the turn of the century, the name Monte Vista faded away, replaced by the name Sunland. Perhaps it’s because visitors traveled up Sunland Boulevard to get there, and Sunland Park was in the center of the community. By 1923, there were a couple of thousand people living in unincorporated Sunland.
The name Tujunga, as applied to Tujunga Valley, comes originally from the Indian village located in Big Tujunga Canyon. The name Tujunga is generally thought to mean “the place of the old woman,” perhaps referring to a rock outcropping that resembled an old woman. During the 1880s’ land boom, the sparsely settled upper reaches of the Tujunga Valley were called Glorietta Heights.
Just after the turn of the century, a Socialist writer named Bolton Hall championed a back-to-the-land movement in his book “A Little Land and a Living.” L.A. developer Marshall Hartranft was intrigued with the idea of a utopian community of self-sufficient small farms and in 1913 bought 1000 acres of Glorietta Heights, naming it “Los Terrenitos” or “Little Lands.” With the help of William Smythe, a successful builder of utopian communities in California, he set up a socialist community of small privately-owned farms. The self-sufficient residents, called Little Landers, cooperatively owned the utilities, stores and a community hall, cleverly named Bolton Hall.
The utopia lasted a very short time. World War I effectively killed Little Lands, and by 1920 Tujunga was just another growing community near Los Angeles.
The boom of the ’20s brought a flurry of incorporations and annexations as towns became cities. Tujunga incorporated in 1925, and almost immediately cast a jealous eye on the lush land of Sunland next door. Sunland residents resisted annexation, but through some clever gerrymandering, Tujunga was able to grab chunks of Sunland, while the City of Los Angeles gobbled the rest.
But the hunter became the hunted as Los Angeles began bids for annexation of Tujunga. Tujunga resisted several annexation attempts but, in 1932, just before the election, a couple of hundred L.A. residents “moved” to Tujunga, voted for annexation, then moved back to L.A. where they came from.
So now Sunland and Tujunga were one – a single neighborhood under the City of Los Angeles. Sunland struggled to keep its own identity. For many years there was a neon sign reading Sunland at the boundary. Marlene Hitt recalls that in her younger years Sunland and Tujunga were quite separate, and for a variety of reasons the two communities didn’t mix much. Marlene suspects that the joining of the two into the hyphenated Sunland-Tujunga was a gradual process, promoted perhaps by the chamber of commerce and other community organizations. She remembers that in the ’70s there was a very active organization called the Improvement Association of Sunland-Tujunga, which further promoted the melding of the two communities.
So where is the boundary between the two communities? Both Marlene and the L.A. Times place the boundary line as Mt. Gleason Avenue, with Sunland to the west and Tujunga to the east.
So there you have it – the next time you drive west on Foothill you’ll have a clearer sense of which is Sunland and which is Tujunga, and why.