10 of L.A.'s Most Interesting and Historic Cemeteries
From the pioneer plots that have long since fallen out of use to decaying graveyards full of large headstones to today's sprawling, immaculately groomed memorial parks, L.A.-area cemeteries are packed with the region's history. They tell us about our past, shedding light on the famous and obscure names that contributed to the building of the county. They clue us in to discriminatory practices and how that affected treatment of the dead. They hold the secrets that local historians have yet to uncover.
If you want to spend a day exploring cemeteries, the best course of action is to head to Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, where there is a high concentration of cemeteries. This list, though, heads from the northern reaches of the San Fernando Valley down to Long Beach and parts in between.
1. Holy Cross Cemetery
When I asked my Facebook friends for cemetery recommendations, Holy Cross was mentioned several times. This tidy and sprawling Catholic cemetery is in the hills above Culver City; if you drive down Slauson too quickly, you might miss it. It isn't a particularly spooky cemetery, but it's the one on this list with the most goth cred on account of Bela Lugosi being a permanent resident. Maybe don't blast Bauhaus' Halloween jam when you're driving through these hills. Holy Cross isn't quite as famous as Hollywood Forever or Forest Lawn, but it's quite the site for celebrity burials. Find a Grave notes that there are 292 "famous interments" on the grounds, among them Sharon Tate, Bing Crosby, Rita Hayworth, Chick Hearn, Spike Jones and Darby Crash. Note that Holy Cross is large, the roads are winding and the graves are simple plaques in the grass, so if you are grave-hunting, you'll need a map. 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City.
2. Sunnyside Cemetery
My Long Beach friends suggested checking out Sunnyside Cemetery, and they did not steer me wrong. This eternal resting spot is 108 years old and is a historic landmark, but it has been facing hard times for years. A recent Long Beach Press-Telegram story notes that, back in 1994, the former owner of the cemetery stole more than half of the cemetery's endowment. Even though he was convicted and sentenced, the cemetery never recovered from that loss. Things have grown worse with a combination of low burial rates and overgrowth issues that occurred after this past winter's storms. Sunnyside Cemetery has been the home of various events. Last year, Long Beach Cinematheque hosted programming here, including a screening of Fire Walk With Me that featured a live performance by the band Xiu Xiu. Every year around Halloween, there's a Historical Cemetery Tour, where actors portray the stories of those interred in this dilapidated cemetery. 1095 E. Willow St., Long Beach.
Odd Fellows Cemetery
3. Odd Fellows Cemetery
The Odd Fellows, an organization with roots going back to 18th-century England, works to take care of community members in life and death. Its Boyle Heights cemetery is as old and rambling as any you'll find in the neighborhood — and there are quite a few — but it's also the final location in a very strange '80s saga. In the early 1980s, more than 16,000 aborted fetuses were found in a bin outside the home of a lab owner. The disturbing discovery led to a lengthy legal battle over what to do with the remains, all of which was tangled up in religion, the abortion debate and separation of church and state. Inevitably, the case made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the fetuses could be buried or cremated but that it could not be a religious ceremony. Hence, they were interred at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in a ceremony that was nonreligious, but perhaps more than a little political, given that the eulogy was written by then-President Reagan. 3640 Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights.
4. Evergreen Cemetery
My great-grandparents are interred at Evergreen, so I visited this Boyle Heights cemetery here and there throughout my youth and was always struck by how wonderfully creepy the place was. One of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles, Evergreen is noteworthy for a lot of reasons, not all of them good. A KCET story from 2013 notes that the cemetery allowed African-Americans to be buried on the grounds, which was not the case at other local burial sites, but that its treatment of deceased Chinese was less than stellar. Chinese Angelenos, the story notes, were charged to be buried in the potter's field; many years later, some of their remains were found during Gold Line construction. Parts of Evergreen are divided by ethnicity, among them Japanese and Armenian. It's also known as a burial site for carnival and circus performers. L.A. Conservancy notes that the cemetery, which dates back to 1877, still buries 1,500 homeless and/or unidentified people every year. In recent years, Evergreen has been the subject of scrutiny over its maintenance, or lack thereof. In 2014, the L.A. Times reported that there had been long-running problems with the cemetery's owner, who also owned Woodlawn Cemetery in Compton and had faced charges for lousy conditions there, as well as misuse of endowment funds at both cemeteries. Evergreen was investigated in 2006 and placed on probation; its license was revoked in 2010 but restored a few years later. 204 N. Evergreen Ave., Boyle Heights.
5. Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery
Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery was recommended by a friend for its aging graves. This Pico-Union cemetery, which dates back to the 1800s, is crammed with weathered tombstones and monuments, and the West Adams Heritage Association notes that it was the first local cemetery with no racial or religious restrictions. In a 2014 story, SCPR reported that one noteworthy permanent resident of the cemetery is Allen Allensworth, a former slave who fought for the Union and became the first African-American colonel. The same story also mentions that Hattie McDaniel was buried here specifically because of racially discriminatory policies at another cemetery. While Angelus-Rosedale is home to its share of deceased celebrities, today's pop culture geeks will recognize it for another reason: Scenes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer were shot here. 1831 W. Washington Blvd., Pico-Union.
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