2011-01-06 / Front Page
A Lady misunderstood
The many faces of Agoura Hills’ favorite mountain
Ladyface Mountain, the hallmark of Agoura Hills and the gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains, has stirred the imagination of local residents for decades— perhaps centuries—but the story of the mountain and how it got its name has more to do with modern day marketing than Chumash Indian lore.
Like the ever-changing cloud formations that float above the mountain’s 2,000-foot peak, what gives the ridgeline its lady-like Photos by Iris Smoot and Julien Belmond profile remains open to interpretation. At least three faces are detectable in the rock formations along the top.
But the legend that tells of a lady peering into the skies waiting for the return of her warrior lover was fabricated by Art Whizin, a real estate developer and businessman who moved to the area in 1954 and wanted to build a restaurant on the crest of the mountain. Whizin also envisioned a tram that could transport patrons from Kanan Road up to the mountaintop eatery.
According to Sally Schneider, a retired planning technician for Agoura Hills, the naming of the mountain and some of the legends surrounding it were simply a marketing ploy used by Whizin to promote his restaurant plan.
“ I knew all the gang,” Schneider said, and “Art wanted a restaurant at the top of what is now Ladyface Mountain. . . . (He also) succeeded in getting zoning approved (from Los Angeles County) for a tram.”
Schneider speculates that Whizin and his pals were probably having a few drinks at his former restaurant, Cornell Corners (now Wood Ranch), when they looked up at the mountain and saw what could be construed as the outline of a woman’s face.
A 1984 news account found in city archives quotes Whizin admitting that he made up the story to encourage patronization of his Cornell Corners business. The so- called legend would have also worked in promoting his new mountaintop restaurant.
But Whizin was quoted as saying the marketing scheme backfired because the newly created legend prompted City Council members— and residents— to become protective of the Ladyface “ sleeping maiden.” The council eventually outlawed all development at the summit, and within the past decade a Ladyface Specific Plan was enacted by the city to further protect the mountain from unwanted urban intrusion.
From Kanan and Agoura roads, Schneider sees a large face from left to right, with a forehead, “prominent aquiline nose” and mouth. From certain vantage points, Schneider sees the maiden’s flowing hair draped over the mountain.
Another interpretation is apparent from Kanan Road. Reverse the profile from right to left and the lady’s face is softened by curled hair on the forehead, eyelashes, a ski- jump nose, a mouth, chin, neck and bosom. Then there’s a microcosm view of a lady’s face that some people see starting at the tip of the ski-jump nose. From this angle, the view is that of a fuller face, including cheeks, a daintier nose, mouth and chin.
An outline of a lady also can be seen while driving northbound on the101 Freeway coming down the Calabasas grade, or when standing on Agoura Road by the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.
According to Phil Holmes, a park ethnographer for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the lady’s face covers a long expanse of the mountain, best seen from the freeway headed north.
The Chumash may never have named the mountain Ladyface, but Holmes said most Native Americans revered the ridge and considered it to be a “power spot.”
Alfred Mazza, manager of the Chumash Indian Museum, says the legend of Ladyface is a “Hollywoodland kind of story,” open to interpretation.
Consider the story of Simi Valley, Mazza says.
Although Simi is said to have been named by the Chumash, the closest translation in the native language is “Shimiyi,” a word possibly meaning clouds. Much of the Chumash language has been lost and the exact meaning of the word “Shimiyi” remains a mystery.
One Chumash-English dictionary exists. John Applegate, a linguist who worked with a Chumash tribe for 20 years, wrote the compendium, but the Samala tongue in which he spoke was just one of five languages used by Chumash tribes.
“Words could mean different things,” Mazza said. “There was not one tribe but a conglomeration of tribes that came together because of language, customs and traditions.”
At Ladyface Mountain, just like the language of the Indians who once lived there, “People see what they want to see,” Agoura Hills Mayor Harry Schwarz says.
“There’s not one way to look at that mountain, and that’s sort of cool,” the mayor said.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”