Bring out your dead

Evergreen.jpgWork has stopped on the construction site of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes adjacent to the old plaza church while wrangling over unearthed burials in the church's former "campo santo" occupies County Supervisor Gloria Molina, Brian McMahon (director of cemeteries for the archdiocese), and the Native American Heritage Commission.

There's little rest in Los Angeles.

Freeway construction, the Gold Line light rail extension, and even new school buildings have brought out the dead and their defenders in recent years, but former Angeleños have been intruding on the plans of the living for a very long time.

In the form of snippets, here's some of that busy history . . .

Prior to 1822, those dying in the Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles were buried in the cemeteries of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel (est.1771) or the Mission San Fernando Rey de España (est.1797). In 1822, the first burial plot in the City of Los Angeles was established adjacent to Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, known to many as the "Old Plaza Church" or "La Placita" at 521 North Main Street. It served the area for about twenty years. A formal petition was presented to the Los Angeles Ayuntamiento on August 16, 1839 stating that the old cemetery was "totally inadequate to the present needs and endangering the health of the community. ~ Archdiocese of Los Angeles: History of Catholic Cemeteries in Los Angeles
In the mid-1840s, the bodies located here were exhumed and moved to Calvary Cemetery on Eternity Street, and again moved to New Calvary Cemetery starting in 1896. There is some conjecture that not all of the bodies were removed and some could be located under the Plaza House next door. ~ Wikiamapia: Campo Santo
In 1844, a new cemetery was set aside by the "Illustrious Council of Los Angeles" on Buena Vista Street (now North Broadway) at the southwest corner of Bishop's Road. Plans were drawn up and Bishop Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno authorized the local priest to bless the 12 acre site "as soon as it is properly fenced in." The new burial ground was blessed on November 3, 1844 by Father Thomas Estenaga, and formally consecrated twenty-two years later by Bishop Thaddeus Amat under the title of Calvary Cemetery. "Old" Calvary Cemetery served the City of Angels for the next six decades, until city expansion called for a second relocation. "New Calvary Cemetery" was established in 1896 on Whittier Boulevard just east of downtown Los Angeles. Now simply referred to as "Calvary", it continues to serve the community and is considered among the most prominent cemeteries in Los Angeles. ~ Archdiocese of Los Angeles: History of Catholic Cemeteries in Los Angeles
(Old Calvary Cemetery) opened on Nov. 3, 1844, and, for the next five decades, became the final resting place for pioneer families whose names make up a "Who's Who" of Los Angeles history: Pico, Boyle, Bell, Chapman, Dominguez, Bandini and Downey, among them. Between 1844 and the end of the 19th century, when the cemetery was shut down and those buried there were moved to a new Calvary Cemetery on Whittier Boulevard east of Downtown, as many as 10,000 of the city's early residents were laid to rest there. As early as 1860, however, the cemetery was criticized as being too small. An article in the Los Angeles Star that year called it "sadly overcrowded" and noted its "crumbling walls." In 1886, cemetery officials stopped accepting new burials, but no move was made at that time to move the bodies that were already there. Bishop Francis Mora, recognizing the cemetery's limitations, had purchased 52 acres at the eastern edge of the city in 1895. Boyle Heights property owners objected to the idea of a graveyard in the area, claiming it would depreciate their property. As a result, the new graveyard was constructed even farther east, outside city limits. ~ Downtown News: The Former Downtown Dead Zone

The city's non-Catholic dead had to relocate, too.

Part of Fort Moore Hill became home to a cemetery, with the first documented burial tracing back to December 19, 1853. Alternately known as Los Angeles City Cemetery, Protestant Cemetery, Fort Moore Hill Cemetery, Fort Hill Cemetery, or simply "the cemetery on the hill", it was the city's first non-Catholic cemetery. The cemetery was overseen by the city starting in 1869. It was not well taken care of, lacking clearly delineated boundaries, complete records or adequate maintenance. The Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution on August 30, 1879, closing the cemetery to any future burials save for those with already reserved plots. By 1884, the city had sold portions of the cemetery as residential lots and the rest to the Los Angeles Board of Education (later the Los Angeles Unified School District). The city never removed any bodies, and the former cemetery was the site of repeated, grisly findings and much negative press. As a result, the city began moving the bodies, most to Evergreen Cemetery, Rosedale Cemetery and Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, with the final bodies being transferred in May 1947. The recent construction of Los Angeles High School #9 resulted in the discovery of additional human remains. These were excavated by archaeologists in 2006. ~ Wikipedia: Fort Moore

And the Jews of early Los Angeles have also been on the move

In 1854, the tiny Jewish community of the dusty pueblo of Los Angeles (population 1,610) established the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the area's first charitable organization. The volunteer group's purpose was to collect funds from "those who have" and distribute them to "those who have not", Jew and non-Jew alike. The organization began by purchasing land for a cemetery to fulfill the Jewish religious commandment of burying the dead. ~ Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles: History
Home of Peace is the successor to the first Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles originally founded as the cemetery of the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1855 in Chavez Ravine; it was moved to its current location in 1902. The remains of the 360 Jews buried in the old cemetery were moved between 1902 and 1910. ~ International Jewish Cemetery Project

The past is under our feet in Los Angeles, although we prefer it to be safely interred. But its claims do not lie easy.

The image on this page was adapted from a photograph taken by flickr user Thomas Hawk. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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