by Richard Senate
Just down from the old Mission San Buenaventura, at the end of Mission Plaza (formerly Figueroa Street) stands six naked flagpoles, There are three flag poles with the California State Flag, the City Flag and the Stars and Stripes–but no others.
What are the six empty flag poles and why were they put up in the first place? They were set up when the city was all spruced up for the Bi-centennial back in 1976. The six flag poles were to fly the flags that flew over our city over the years. The Spanish flag flown by Juan R. Cabrillo when he sighted the location of the city in 1542, The Spanish Flag flown when Fr. Serra established the mission in 1782 (it was different from the early flag) The flag of the Mexican Republic (slightly different than the one they use today), The flag of John C. Fremont when he captured the city in 1847 the original Bear flag and the 31 star flag when California joined the Union in 1850.
These were flown for many years but wind and sun took their toll on the banners and soon they were worn and needed to be replaced. They proved to be expensive but funds were found to buy a new set. They were flown but suffered in the tragedy of 9-11. Following the fall of the Twin Towers in New York all flags were to be flown at half mast. A city worker didn’t know if this rule applied to historic flags and left them at full staff. The public was emotional after what happened in the New York attack and wrote angry letters to the newspapers and city councilmen. The flags were lowered but after that they were not replaced and the poles have been empty since then.
Even with all of them flying, they forgot a historic flag that only flew over Ventura in March of 1838–at the Battle of San Buenaventura, a skirmish fought in a brief civil war when California was part of Mexico. Governor Alvarado toyed with the idea of making California an independent nation, separate from Mexico, then in a confused political state. His faction captured Santa Barbara and, in the style of that community, they threw a fiesta inviting the governor to attend. A bit in his cups, he had a simple Mexican flag brought (one without the eagle and serpent) and he took black paint and carefully wrote: “Independencia de California” across the banner–the flag of a free California Nation! He wanted the father at Mission Santa Barbara to bless the flag. When the padre saw this he knew this would mean war with Mexico City and refused. The flag was flown as the forces loyal to Alvarado marched south and took Ventura. Later a sober Alvarado made peace with Mexico City and he vowed to keep the territory of California under the Mexican Tricolor. The flag made in Santa Barbara is lost now but, it represented a historic event that would presage the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. Maybe that flag should be flown over our community today?