Sunday, July 09, 2006

San Gabriel Valley Tribune - July 7, 2006

San Gabriel Valley Tribune Article

Saving cemetery a tricky proposition
By Fred Ortega Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - If it wants to save the Savannah Memorial Park, the El Monte Cemetery Association may have to let it go.

The association, which owns the 4-acre pioneer cemetery at 9263 Valley Blvd., will hold a meeting on July 15 to determine the future of the historic graveyard. The association has been losing money on the cemetery for years, spending $34,000 but bringing in only $9,000 in 2005.

The fact that only one grave has been sold at the cemetery in the last four years leaves the association with few choices, said Bob Bruesch, vice president of the cemetery's board.

"In my opinion, we need to start the legal steps to end the body's control of the cemetery as a business," Bruesch said.

A discussion during the board's June 20 meeting about turning the cemetery into a park, removing the headstones and placing all the names on a single monument met with resistance from people whose relatives are buried there.

"I have 13 ancestors buried there, and I would like to see it protected so that it remains a cemetery and all the grave sites are maintained," said Anna Guess Pick, whose great-grandfather, John Guess, was one of the early settlers in the area. She said John Guess' son, Henry Guess, was the first white child born in Los Angeles County and he is buried at the Savannah cemetery.

The cemetery, which has graves dating back to 1847 and is the final resting place of a veteran of the War of 1812, was even used by local Native Americans as a burial site before the arrival of white settlers, Pick said.

The best option for preserving the cemetery would be to follow the lead of the city of Martinez, Bruesch said. Martinez has created a commission that oversees the cemetery, including an interpretive center and displays identifying the most significant grave sites.

"We could get together with a high school or college history class and have them design the displays and brochures for the cemetery," Bruesch said. "That doesn't mean they can't inter people there, but they would just not be able to sell more grave sites. We would have to legally allow people who have purchased graves to be interred there."

But that could not happen until a public entity, such as the city of Rosemead or the county, takes over the 3,000-grave cemetery.

Rosemead Councilman John Tran said he would like to see a combined approach toward preserving the graveyard.

In the meantime, activists from groups such as California Saving Graves, which focuses on preserving pioneer graveyards, are working to secure a state historical designation for the Savannah site, Breusch said.

The July 15 meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at the El Monte Historical Museum, 3150 Tyler Ave.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306

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