News

Hate symbol or Buddhist emblem? Hidden Villa cancels summer camps for 1,000 kids after staffers resign over swastika tiles

The Duveneck building at Hidden Villa used to feature pre-Nazi era tiles in the shape of swastikas, in Los Altos Hills in 2019. Photo by Heather Zimmerman.

Hidden Villa, a Los Altos Hills nonprofit known for its pastoral landscape and educational programs, announced on June 8 that all of this year's summer camp sessions are canceled due to the “abrupt departure” of camp staff members, disrupting summer plans for nearly 1,000 children.

But some now-former staff members say the situation was anything but abrupt: their resignations came after months of slow-building conflict that had boiled over –- in particular, the handling of pre-Nazi swastika tiles that were embedded into the exterior of a camp building for nearly a century until they were removed June 7.

Four Hidden Villa staff members resigned in reaction to the camp's handling of pre-Nazi era swastika tiles that had been displayed on a camp building for nearly a century. Courtesy Hidden Villa.

“Over this past weekend, four camp staff, including the Summer Camp Director, handed in their resignation effective immediately,” Hidden Villa said in its June 8 announcement to the community.

Part of what caused mass resignation, the announcement said, “was an ongoing process to discuss symbols on the historic Duveneck house,” a focal point of the property. “The house, built in 1929, had three tiles, approximately 12 inches by 12 inches, with Buddhist swastikas and a lotus embedded in the architecture.”

The camp’s founders, Frank and Jospehine Duveneck, purchased the tiles in 1913, years before the ancient Buddhist emblem was co-opted by Nazis into the hate symbol it’s known as today.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

Summer Camp Director Philip James, who resigned from his position June 5, said he was first made aware of the swastika tiles last summer, when a camper pointed them out to him. He immediately brought it up to his supervisors.

“I continued to bring that up in conversation and talk about how we (should) do something about it, before it got to the point that it’s at now,” James said in an interview. “And I was consistently told that Hidden Villa is not ready to have these types of conversations.”

James said at one point he was asked to write a letter about the issue to the Villa Voice, a newsletter that goes out to camp staff.

“So I wrote a letter explaining my experience with the camper, and exactly what happened. At the end of it I said, ‘What are the other ways that we can be thinking about how to keep folks safe in this space?’” James said. “Leadership did not like that at all. I was reprimanded. They told me that I was making the Duvenecks look racist, and it wasn’t fair that they’re not here to defend themselves. … I think for me, honestly, that was probably the biggest turning point.”

Hidden Villa’s interim Executive Director Philip Arca stepped into the role in January, so the ongoing conversation around how to address the tiles “was new to me,” Arca said in a June 9 interview. Arca resigned, citing health reasons, the day after his interview with the Voice, according to a June 11 letter sent to Hidden Villa staff from Hidden Villa Board President Peter Hartzell.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Arca said he and other camp leaders started a conversation about possibly adding educational signage to contextualize the tiles, “because there’s a variety of perspectives on this.”

“Initially we thought signage was an option,” Arca said. “The expectations, from my perspective at least, morphed into, they need to be removed.”

“I think we tried to design a process (to remove the tiles) as thoughtful and inclusive as possible,” Arca continued. “… I think for the individuals involved, they may have felt that that took too long, or that there might have been different ways to do that, so I respect that different perspective.”

From James’ perspective, it wasn’t just that the process took too long: he said he feels his voice as a Black person was brushed aside while others’ voices, specifically white staff members, were what finally tipped the needle to get the tiles removed.

Hidden Villa hires two types of staff: year-round team members like James’s position, and seasonal camp staff who only work for the duration of the summer camp program. This year’s summer camp staff had just been brought on board when they learned about the tiles, James said. Some members of the summer camp staff organized on their own and wrote a letter that they delivered to the board and leadership at Hidden Villa on June 3, he said.

“We are not comfortable educating children in proximity to this symbol of hate,” said the letter, a copy of which was given to the Voice by James. “In its presence, we cannot purport to provide a safe or affirming environment. If you do not agree to meet these stated requests, the majority of the undersigned are currently prepared to terminate our employment.”

Two days later, on June 5, Hidden Villa Associate Director Lynn Rivas held a meeting with the camp staff members who wrote the letter to talk about the situation, James said. He had a meeting scheduled with Rivas right after, which James said got quickly heated, and he resigned shortly afterward. Hidden Villa removed the tiles two days later.

“It took over nine months from when (it) was brought to their attention, to fast forward to this Sunday when everything just went down -- it took them less than 48 hours to take them down, after a group of mostly white kids got together and expressed how it made them feel,” said former assistant camp director Mimi Elias, who also resigned. “Versus (James), who had calmly and nicely tried to talk to them, meeting after meeting, but they just wouldn’t listen.”

Arca said camp leadership accepted the resignations and is trying to “move forward and focus on the families.” The camp closure will affect nearly 1,000 campers, he said.

“Since we had insufficient staff and we could not serve the children, we’re trying to be supportive of the rest of the staff,” Arca said. “The focus has really been with the families and the loss of this opportunity for all these families.”

Hidden Villa was set to host nearly 1,000 kids for its annual summer camps this year. But the camp abruptly canceled its summer programming after four staff members resigned. Courtesy Dan Quinn.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now
Malea Martin covers the city hall beat in Mountain View. Before joining the Mountain View Voice in 2022, she covered local politics and education for New Times San Luis Obispo, a weekly newspaper on the Central Coast of California. Read more >>

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Hate symbol or Buddhist emblem? Hidden Villa cancels summer camps for 1,000 kids after staffers resign over swastika tiles

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Jun 13, 2022, 2:52 pm

Hidden Villa, a Los Altos Hills nonprofit known for its pastoral landscape and educational programs, announced on June 8 that all of this year's summer camp sessions are canceled due to the “abrupt departure” of camp staff members, disrupting summer plans for nearly 1,000 children.

But some now-former staff members say the situation was anything but abrupt: their resignations came after months of slow-building conflict that had boiled over –- in particular, the handling of pre-Nazi swastika tiles that were embedded into the exterior of a camp building for nearly a century until they were removed June 7.

“Over this past weekend, four camp staff, including the Summer Camp Director, handed in their resignation effective immediately,” Hidden Villa said in its June 8 announcement to the community.

Part of what caused mass resignation, the announcement said, “was an ongoing process to discuss symbols on the historic Duveneck house,” a focal point of the property. “The house, built in 1929, had three tiles, approximately 12 inches by 12 inches, with Buddhist swastikas and a lotus embedded in the architecture.”

The camp’s founders, Frank and Jospehine Duveneck, purchased the tiles in 1913, years before the ancient Buddhist emblem was co-opted by Nazis into the hate symbol it’s known as today.

Summer Camp Director Philip James, who resigned from his position June 5, said he was first made aware of the swastika tiles last summer, when a camper pointed them out to him. He immediately brought it up to his supervisors.

“I continued to bring that up in conversation and talk about how we (should) do something about it, before it got to the point that it’s at now,” James said in an interview. “And I was consistently told that Hidden Villa is not ready to have these types of conversations.”

James said at one point he was asked to write a letter about the issue to the Villa Voice, a newsletter that goes out to camp staff.

“So I wrote a letter explaining my experience with the camper, and exactly what happened. At the end of it I said, ‘What are the other ways that we can be thinking about how to keep folks safe in this space?’” James said. “Leadership did not like that at all. I was reprimanded. They told me that I was making the Duvenecks look racist, and it wasn’t fair that they’re not here to defend themselves. … I think for me, honestly, that was probably the biggest turning point.”

Hidden Villa’s interim Executive Director Philip Arca stepped into the role in January, so the ongoing conversation around how to address the tiles “was new to me,” Arca said in a June 9 interview. Arca resigned, citing health reasons, the day after his interview with the Voice, according to a June 11 letter sent to Hidden Villa staff from Hidden Villa Board President Peter Hartzell.

Arca said he and other camp leaders started a conversation about possibly adding educational signage to contextualize the tiles, “because there’s a variety of perspectives on this.”

“Initially we thought signage was an option,” Arca said. “The expectations, from my perspective at least, morphed into, they need to be removed.”

“I think we tried to design a process (to remove the tiles) as thoughtful and inclusive as possible,” Arca continued. “… I think for the individuals involved, they may have felt that that took too long, or that there might have been different ways to do that, so I respect that different perspective.”

From James’ perspective, it wasn’t just that the process took too long: he said he feels his voice as a Black person was brushed aside while others’ voices, specifically white staff members, were what finally tipped the needle to get the tiles removed.

Hidden Villa hires two types of staff: year-round team members like James’s position, and seasonal camp staff who only work for the duration of the summer camp program. This year’s summer camp staff had just been brought on board when they learned about the tiles, James said. Some members of the summer camp staff organized on their own and wrote a letter that they delivered to the board and leadership at Hidden Villa on June 3, he said.

“We are not comfortable educating children in proximity to this symbol of hate,” said the letter, a copy of which was given to the Voice by James. “In its presence, we cannot purport to provide a safe or affirming environment. If you do not agree to meet these stated requests, the majority of the undersigned are currently prepared to terminate our employment.”

Two days later, on June 5, Hidden Villa Associate Director Lynn Rivas held a meeting with the camp staff members who wrote the letter to talk about the situation, James said. He had a meeting scheduled with Rivas right after, which James said got quickly heated, and he resigned shortly afterward. Hidden Villa removed the tiles two days later.

“It took over nine months from when (it) was brought to their attention, to fast forward to this Sunday when everything just went down -- it took them less than 48 hours to take them down, after a group of mostly white kids got together and expressed how it made them feel,” said former assistant camp director Mimi Elias, who also resigned. “Versus (James), who had calmly and nicely tried to talk to them, meeting after meeting, but they just wouldn’t listen.”

Arca said camp leadership accepted the resignations and is trying to “move forward and focus on the families.” The camp closure will affect nearly 1,000 campers, he said.

“Since we had insufficient staff and we could not serve the children, we’re trying to be supportive of the rest of the staff,” Arca said. “The focus has really been with the families and the loss of this opportunity for all these families.”

Comments

ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2022 at 5:14 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2022 at 5:14 pm

I'm a Jew, I know the difference between the traditional Buddhist swastika and the Nazi version, and I don't think the tiles needed to be removed. But, as usual, the cover-up is the problem. Thanks to Mr. James for his efforts!


L
Registered user
another community
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:25 am
L, another community
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:25 am

I made the same request about the tiles years ago. This isn’t about race, it’s about numbers. A large group forced them to make a change. Their goal is to preserve the Duveneck’s history, so I believe they didn’t want to remove a part of it until forced to. HV administration has had plenty of flaws, but racism ain’t one of them.


Bernie Brightman
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Jun 14, 2022 at 8:55 am
Bernie Brightman, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 8:55 am

What a Much Ado about Nothing.

Well, I'm glad that kids won't be giving each other COVID in a camp that shouldn't have been happening anyway.


Parks
Registered user
Castro City
on Jun 14, 2022 at 11:50 am
Parks, Castro City
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 11:50 am

Hidden Villa says the tiles were in place in the 1910's and it wasn't a Nazi symbol then so we get a free pass. But they/the family had what, 90 years after it did become a symbol of hate to do something about it? And didn't?

Oh well it's also a Buddhist symbol so it's OK. Suppose it was a cross, or a crescent and star and someone objected to having a religious symbol in an inclusive space? They would have removed it, as should have been done long ago.

Too little, too late.


SalsaMusic
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:17 pm
SalsaMusic, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:17 pm

banning all use of the swastika would be akin to banning the Christian cross because the Ku Klux Klan used burning crosses to terrorize African Americans.


MV Resident
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:40 pm
MV Resident, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:40 pm

Cancel culture : People with very little understanding and alot of hate.
The Nazi book burners in the 1930s were the cancel culture of their time whereas now we have the so called enlightened and tolerant groups of people. Attacking a religion because a symbol borrowed and modified by the Nazi equates to the same.


Ray
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:48 pm
Ray, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 2:48 pm

Only in California! Tiles, produced in 1910, placed on the walls of the Duveneck house built in 1929, have to be removed, because people with no understanding of history think it will disturb children..mightn’t it serve as a point of education? Even a cursory reading of history tells the story of the swastika dating back to the 5th c. BCE..I have traveled to many parts of the world in my career and private life, and the swastika is to be found in all sorts of places..India, Israel, Africa, etc....ah, but not in politically correct Los Altos Hills! And, as a result, 1000 kids have no camp this summer. R.V.Arnaudo, Monta Loma


Celia
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Jun 14, 2022 at 3:48 pm
Celia, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 3:48 pm

This issue was handled very badly from the beginning and should have been settled with a discussion of where the symbol came from to start with and how this tile differs substantially from the Nazi swastika. I am Jewish and abhor the Nazis and their historic genocide, but the Nazi's adoption of a symbol that is vaguely similar to the Buddhist symbol, (which in fact stands for good fortune and is used worldwide), doesn't turn the Buddhist symbol into a representation of hate or discrimination. The orientation of the crossed bars and even moreover, their connection to the circle, makes it clear that this is not the Nazi symbol. This issue should never have gotten as far as it did, and removing the tiles gives the premise for this disruption credibility it should not have had.


harvardmom
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Jun 14, 2022 at 3:59 pm
harvardmom, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 3:59 pm

A lot of things need to be updated in today's culture, but couldn't the offending tiles have been temporarily covered up with a sign? Even one made of paper and handwritten could have helped, such as "Welcome" or "No Food Allowed," or something similar. A little research could have led to some awareness instead of upending the summer plans of 1,000 campers and their families. Is anyone thinking about the kids?? Can't Hidden Villa pull another group of camp staff together? Let's show some leadership, leaders. And let's use our options!


James Thurber
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Jun 14, 2022 at 4:08 pm
James Thurber, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 4:08 pm

My niece was married in Burbank a few years ago in a building absolutely plastered with swastikas. Pre-Nazi? Absolutely.

And it was a Jewish wedding.

Come on folks, get your collective "stuff" together. If they aren't Nazi symbols then quit fussing.


mdhoffm2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jun 14, 2022 at 4:28 pm
mdhoffm2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 4:28 pm

Regardless of the history of the symbol or the tiles, what is unquestionable is that the Board horribly mismanaged this situation. Their delay in taking action provoked the resignation of staff, leading 1,000 kids losing access to the camp. This will cost Hidden Villa millions of dollars in camp revenue and donations as the organization's reputation is harmed.

The board's job is to consider the risks and benefits to the organization and in this case they made a very bad decision about the relative upside and downside risk of keeping the symbols up.


Flava Dave
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jun 14, 2022 at 5:17 pm
Flava Dave, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 5:17 pm

"Suppose it was a cross, or a crescent and star and someone objected to having a religious symbol in an inclusive space? They would have removed it, as should have been done long ago."

Not according to SCOTUS. Just ask Boston


Flava Dave
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jun 14, 2022 at 5:31 pm
Flava Dave, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 5:31 pm

The people who complained... I wonder if they also think the Procter and Gamble symbol is satanic.


BDBD
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Jun 15, 2022 at 11:07 am
BDBD, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2022 at 11:07 am

Too bad they're seriously mismanaged, because the farm and property are beautiful community assets. I'm not sad to see the camps implode given our family's experience there years ago.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Jun 15, 2022 at 11:35 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2022 at 11:35 am

@ mdhoffm2. is exactly right. For a non-profit corporation, the Board majority sets the policy. It is clear that they did not take due diligence in considering the fiscal implications on Leaving the Symbols Exposed.

They could have been covered up / with other Buddhist symbols covering them / (professional metal sign and screws).

Guess what! We live in an area that is trying to understand 'the symbolism' of how we surround ourselves and OUR CHILDREN. So "Huff School" gets renamed / not for another clearly racist community pioneer / but for a recent well respected 'ethnic' community member! (yeah MVWSD Board).

The Board of Hidden Villa now obviously did a poor job! An they were clearly warned (in writing) by a formerly loyal employee of 'this problem'. The shame is on the Board majority at Hidden Villa.


PeaceLove
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Jun 15, 2022 at 5:09 pm
PeaceLove, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2022 at 5:09 pm

As a longtime fan of the movement to rehabilitate the swastika (which has *thousands* of years of sacred use across almost every society on earth) I would be very sad if Hidden Villa participates in the erasure of history. There are literally swastikas on the floor of an ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, in Navajo blankets, on the jerseys of the Swastika, Canada hockey team from the 1920s, and almost everywhere else on earth. Swastikas have been a symbol of good fortune and a common decorative motif throughout our history. Let's not empower a psychopathic German death cult to take our swastikas away from us.


Yonatan
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2022 at 6:03 pm
Yonatan, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2022 at 6:03 pm

Good lord there are a lot of weirdos commenting here.
While that particular symbol isn't the one of the genocidal madmen, it certainly looks like one.
If you have to walk by something which you need to look clearly to see that it is not a symbol of hate, it seems like a not fun place to work and having people tell you that you need to look clearly and you shouldn't feel so bad about being visually assaulted by it also doesn't seem like fun.
As a Jew, I find it all particularly offensive that so many people here and at hidden villa telling people to settle down and make sure to look at it to make sure it is not a hate symbol.
It is a swastika in a public place. it needs to be taken down. If it was in a Buddhist temple, fine. If it is in your house, fine. You can tell your guests that you are not actually a Nazi, you just, nearly a century after the symbol first became one of hate, you still like it.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Jun 16, 2022 at 12:25 am
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2022 at 12:25 am

The issue seems to be that this 1928 structure had a decorative element, quite small, which came from the Hindu swastika, a known and ancient part of the religion. Actually it is the mirror image form, not technically the Hindu swastika but its counterpart/reverse.

It seems to me that those who are picking on this are culturally insensitive.

This symbol built into a structure, is not what is meant by Structural racism.

These people are ignorant of the world.


Jon B
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Jun 16, 2022 at 2:49 pm
Jon B, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2022 at 2:49 pm

Let’s face it, Mr James and the assistant camp director timed their resignation to inflict maximum pain on HV either because they did not feel heard and were tired of it. I get that. Given the low pay (certainly not a living wage anywhere in this County) and resulting short staffing at HV it’s no wonder tempers were short and flared up right before camp started. It’s too bad that Mr James and his assistant could not have given at least two weeks notice so that camp could have been saved. Their decision to quit less than a week before start of camp is unprofessional, selfish and even cruel when you think of all the kids who have so looked forward to camp after two years of Covid and the staff who no longer have summer jobs and will need to scramble to find new ones.


MyOpinion
Registered user
Stierlin Estates
on Jun 21, 2022 at 1:32 am
MyOpinion, Stierlin Estates
Registered user
on Jun 21, 2022 at 1:32 am

This SHOULD have been an opportunity to educate kids about the history of the symbol. If not for Heinrich Schliemann we would not be having this discussion. Web Link


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.