Venturans Distressed

 

Ventura County
Star-Free Press
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.

Gets Consent

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 Canyon Road.

"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 can."

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 old gravestones.

"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."

DISGRACEFUL SIGHT

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 order."


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