A special tree towered 60 feet above the village of Yang-Na, shading the Kizh Kitc Gabrieleño people with its 200-foot-wide canopy. The Kizh called it Sha’var. It was a sacred site for them, and a landmark known to Native Americans as far away as Yuma, Arizona.
The invading Spanish called the tree El Aliso (Spanish for “sycamore”). In 1834, French immigrant Jean-Louis Vignes bought 104 acres along the Los Angeles River, including the giant tree, and built a wine cellar in the tree’s shade. Fittingly, he called his vineyard El Aliso in the tree’s honor.
El Aliso can even be seen in early photographs of Los Angeles. But as time marched on, the tree became less healthy. The river burst its banks and changed course during a very wet winter, and as the city grew up right underneath the massive sycamore, it began to choke the life right out of El Aliso. By 1895, the old sacred tree had died and was felled for firewood.
In more recent years, landscape architect John Crandell determined the tree’s former location—an island dividing Commercial Street from the 101 Freeway—via clues in an 1845 document. In April 2019, a plaque honoring El Aliso was installed at the tree’s approximate location. Unlike the many historical markers playing up Los Angeles’ Spanish and Mexican roots, the El Aliso plaque strongly emphasizes its importance to local Native Americans and is dedicated to the Kizh-Gabrieleno people.