Ventura, California, Thursday, December 3, 1964
Old Cemetery Crumbles... Bit By Bit
By John A. Jones
Stone by stone, the old Ventura Cemetery, south of Poli Street, is being
taken apart in the first stage of its $12,000 transformation into a
memorial park and view point.
But some Venturans anxious to preserve community history are distressed
to see the old gravestones taken away, and shocked by the use of sledge
hammers to break up part of the masonry around the old family plots.
"I was quite horrified," said Mrs. Donald Lindsay, one of
those urging the gravestones be preserved at the present cemetery or
set up at another public place in the city.
City officials, however, say the sledgehammers and general manhandling
of the masonry are necessary to shift the massive tombstones, and the
final results will be an attractive memorial park uncluttered by old
neglected monuments above ground.
The plan is for all the gravestones to be removed and the ground smoothed
over and planted with grass. Small metal markers will be sunk flush
with the ground and numbered. The numbers will be keyed to a large memorial
bearing the names of all those buried in the cemetery.
City Manager, Charles Reiman, got the City Council's approval for the
project over a year ago, then obtained the consent of the Los Angeles
Archdiocese for the Roman Catholic portion of the cemetery to be included.
Protestant and Jewish sections already were city owned, he said.
Since then, Reiman has sent letters to all the families whose descendants
could be traced to the graves, explaining the improvement plan and offering
to give the family any tombstones they might want.
About 200 letters were sent out and nearly 100 were returned - all of
them favoring the plan, said Bob Mayers, city administrative assistant.
No burials have taken place at the cemetery since 1944 when further
burial inside the city was prohibited. But there are 2,298 graves recorded
there, more than half of them with no monument.
The proposal for sinking small brass markers flush with the ground will
provide a record of all the graves, city officials say, as well as allowing
the beautification of the area as a park and ending the vandalism problem
in the neglected graveyard.
A three-man city crew has been at work for the past three weekends,
removing stones and taking them to the City Park Department yard on
Hall Canyon Road.
REST IN SHADE
They were stacked by the fence at the west side of the yard until a
woman living just the other side of the fence complained about the melancholy
sight. Now the stones have been unobtrusively laid in alphabetical order
in the quiet shade of a row of trees lining the east fence, beside Hall
"Every tombstone and every part of a monument with a name inscribed
on it has been saved," said Ed Lupton, city park superintendent.
"We are also saving pieces of marble and used brick from the monuments,
which might be used in other city park beautification projects."
"But the low concrete walls around the family plots have to be
broken up with a sledge hammer so we can remove them."
"If we took each tombstone separately and wrapped it up and carried
it away, it would cost more than the taxpayers would want to pay. We
are programming the job in sections, and doing it as carefully as we
Another problems posed by five crypts above ground, Lupton said. He
plans to cut a small window in each crypt to see if any remains are
there. If there are, they will be temporarily removed to another cemetery
in coffins until the monuments have been removed. Then they will be
reburied in the same spots and the places marked with metal studs like
those at the other graves.
TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED
Mrs. Lindsay, who complained about the destruction of the old monuments,
said she has invited Dr. James Deetz, a colonial archaeologist from
University of California at Santa Barbara, to come and photograph the
"They carry a great deal of history of this community," said
Mrs. Lindsay. "They are fascinating. This is something of the community
which, hopefully, would have remained for generations. With all this
bulldozing things down and paving them over, you lose a lot of the character
of the city."
She suggested that if the stones cannot now remain at the old cemetery,
they might be erected at the Olivas hacienda or some other public place,
rather than stored away in the park department yard.
"This is the only old cemetery that we have and it should be preserved
as a historical landmark, not broken up like this," protested another
Ventura woman active in civic affairs who asked that her name be withheld.
R. G. Percy, secretary treasurer of the County Historical Society, said
he was asked to bring the matter before the society's board of directors,
for its next meeting Dec. 21.
"I don't know what we can do about it," Percy admitted. "But
I was asked and I promised to bring it up at the board meeting."
After visiting the cemetery, Percy said, "I think this is the most
disgraceful sight that any city has ever allowed to happen. I don't
know what can be done about it, but something should be done."
Percy said he doubted that the city had notified all the families whose
relatives were buried at the cemetery.
"My grandparents were buried out there, and my family has never
been approached," he said.
But city officials say they checked every lead that they could find
among older Ventura residents of the names on the tombstones.
Two Newspaper Photographs:
First shows at least 200 headstones and masonry curbs around at least
50 family plots with church bell tower in background. Caption reads,
"OLD TOMBSTONES WILL BE REMOVED, REPLACED WITH MARKERS, The plan
is for a memorial park, uncluttered by old neglected monuments."
Second shows Ed Lupton, city park superintendent, at Hall Canyon yard,
kneeling and touching one headstone among a heap of headstones, gazing
into it's honorarium. Caption reads, "THESE STONES NO LONGER MARK
THEIR GRAVES, Ed Lupton, city park superintendent, keeps them in alphabetical