A timely undertaking
Just 10 years ago, the little cemetery in the foothills of Sierra Madre was in bad shape. Weeds choked some of the more-than-century-old plots, a decrepit chain-link fence surrounded the grounds, and the money in the cemetery’s endowment fund was dwindling fast. Today, the Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery features neatly manicured lawns and a computerized directory listing the location of every grave in alphabetical order. Revenue for upkeep is flowing thanks to creative internment options such as a memorial garden and ash plots. Sierra Madre Cemetery is an example of what can happen when dedicated community volunteers take charge of their city’s historical resources, said Silver. Now, the same daunting challenge is being faced by the new board of directors of the 150-year-old Savannah Memorial Park in Rosemead. “Sierra Madre is probably closer to how things are hoped to progress with Savannah,” Silver said. “But it is not going to happen overnight.” Savannah, with 3,000 grave markers, is nearly full. With few remaining plots to sell, the new board is pursuing historic status for the cemetery to help access grant money for the $35,000 annual maintenance costs. They hope to form a support group to spearhead preservation. Like Savannah today, Sierra Madre was almost out of space when George Enyedi and a new board took over the Sierra Madre Cemetery Association in 1995. “The cemetery was pretty much sold out, with nothing really available for sale,” said Enyedi, president of the association that runs the cemetery. Started in 1881 by Sierra Madre founder Nathaniel Carter, the cemetery contains the remains of Civil War veterans and members of the city’s first 17 families and their descendants. After raising donations from the community over two or three years, Enyedi and the board were able to hire a professional maintenance man and install new wrought-iron fencing, as well as an automatic sprinkler system. A memorial garden was established in the corner of the cemetery where, for $200, people can have their ashes spread and for $100 more can have their names placed on a plaque on a memorial wall surrounding the garden. “We have roughly 200 people on the wall so far,” Enyedi said. The construction of a 400-foot-long retaining wall on the east side of the property added 250 additional plots and 650 ash plots, 40-by-40-inch spaces that can each hold two urns of cremated remains. “We have been able to quadruple our endowment fund and can now generate sufficient income from our investments to pay for all our expenses and have a little left over for our reserves,” Enyedi said, adding that upkeep for the cemetery costs $25,000 to $30,000 per year. One option for Savannah, which so far has been rejected, would be to allow the city or county to take control of it. City officials in Industry did this with the famous El Campo Santo, located behind the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum. The small, private cemetery is home to the final resting places of the founding families of the San Gabriel Valley, the Workmans, Temples and Rowlands, as well as California’s last Mexican governor, Pio Pico. But the Temple family lost the property in the Great Depression and it was eventually acquired by the city in 1963. There is no more room in the 70-plot cemetery, except for some of the last Temple descendants, said Paul Spitzzeri, collections manager at the Homestead Museum. “All capital work, restorations of the mausoleum, come out of the city’s capital budget and general maintenance is done by a company contracted by the city,” Spitzzeri said. “Of course, City of Industry is in a much better financial position than other cities around here, and this is a small cemetery compared to Savannah.” Industry will spend about $1.3 million for the Homestead House and El Campo Santo in 2006-07, said Chief Financial Officer Vickie Gallo. “It all comes from the city’s general fund,” Gallo said, adding the city does not charge residents an assessment to maintain the museum or the grounds. [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhy these photogenic dumplings are popping up in Los Angelesplained Sheryl Dugas, office specialist with Whittier’s parks department. “Now there is landscaping and benches, but no restrooms, barbecues or play equipment, out of respect for those buried there,” she added. But Sue Silver of California Saving Graves, an Internet group that assists communities in preserving their historic cemeteries, said cities looking to maintain the burial grounds of their first residents should look elsewhere for examples of how to do it right. “Whittier has a nice vacant cemetery that it now calls a park,” Silver said. “Put `Memorial’ on it, if you like, but there’s not much memorialization of those pioneers’ lives going on.” She cites Pioneer Cemetery in Sierra Madre as a better success story. Click on Images for more InfoNotable Pioneer Cemeteries Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery 601 E. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre El Campo Santo 15415 E. Don Julian Road, Industry Savannah Memorial Park 9263 Valley Blvd., Rosemead Memorial Park 6031 Citrus Ave., Whittier • Photo Galleries: Sierra Madre Cemetery | Founders Memorial Park | El Campo Santo Cemetery | Savannah Memorial Park • Slideshow: Pioneer Cemeteries WHITTIER – When it comes to preserving the many historic cemeteries that dot communities in the Whittier area and the San Gabriel Valley, Founders Memorial Park is good example of what cities ought to avoid, according to one preservationist group. In 1968, Whittier city officials took over the long-neglected Mount Olive and Broadway cemeteries, removed the gravestones and replaced them with two monuments listing the names of the 2,380 people buried there. “The cemeteries had fallen into disrepair, the vaults were caved in, tombstones were tipped over and it was a very hazardous situation,” ex- 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!