Ventura's Cemetery Park

Ventura County Reporter
January 26, 1993

Psychic World
By Richard Senate

The great English Prime Minister, William E. Gladstone, of the last century stated: "Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals."

These words come to mind when reflecting upon the sad fate nation Ventura Memorial Park, today known as Cemetery Park. Last week a tombstone washed ashore on the beach - a stone that once marked the grave of an early Ventura resident.

There is some debate as to how it found its way into the surf - but there can be no debate as to why it was removed from the spot where it had originally stood. It was removed in 1964. In an effort to make the city look better, more modern, all of the tombstones, footstones, vaults and curbs were removed. A few of the grave sites were marked with flush ground brass markers. Of the 1980 recorded burials only a handful was ever marked.

Surprisingly, few objections were voiced for these changes. The 1960s in Ventura were marked by a desire to "speed-up, and modernize." The tempo of the town was fixed by the new freeway that cut the city in two. What was old was out - What was new was the watchword. Modern style buildings replaced the older brick structures. Classic downtown buildings, with their ornate designs were cut up, their 19th Century fronts stuccoed over to make them appear modern.

This ruined much that was distinctly Venturan and replaced it with a uniformity of glass and steel. The old downtown lost a lot and was quickly replaced by a new mall built on what was once the edge of town.

But, nowhere was this movement as destructive as it was to the old cemetery. It cost too much to trim the grass and weeds from around the marble monuments and vaults. It was too hard to keep vandals away every Halloween who would tip the stones over on a dare or mock the specter of death with a midnight stroll.

A few did find the removal of the tombstones deplorable. Mrs. Donald Lindsay was horrified at the idea and urged that the old cemetery be maintained and preserved. But her opinion was in the minority.

The 600 headstones were taken away - the simple markers of the humble along with the ornate stones of the Camarillo's, Olivas', Sexton's and Richardson's. The tall obelisk that marked Civil War General and Congressman Vandever went to the same fate as the smallest monument to a beloved child taken in infancy. In the final equality, all of the unclaimed stones were taken to the Olivas Golf Course Levee and buried in the rubble.

Perhaps the mood of the community has changed. Perhaps today such an act would not be possible without an outcry from the citizens. Cemeteries are not eyesores on the land. They mark the history and soul of a community. If we let them be forgotten we will have lost something important and meaningful.

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